MOSCOW, October 10 (RIA Novosti) – International observers have criticized “serious” and “overwhelming” violations during Wednesday presidential elections in oil-rich Azerbaijan that resulted in a landslide win for autocratic incumbent Ilham Aliyev.
Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe identified voter intimidation, a restrictive media environment during the election campaign and violations at all stages of the voting process in a preliminary report on the elections released Thursday.
The former Soviet nation’s Central Elections Commission gave Aliyev, 51, who succeeded his father as leader of Azerbaijan in 2003, almost 85 percent of the vote in preliminary results. His closest rival, opposition candidate and prominent academic Camil Hasanli, managed just 5.18 percent.
“Significant problems were observed throughout all stages of election day processes,” the OSCE report said. “Counting was assessed in overwhelmingly negative terms, with 58 percent of observed polling stations assessed as bad or very bad, indicating serious problems.”
The OSCE also criticized the lack of a level playing field for the 10 officially registered candidates, noting “the restrictive legal framework and disproportionate coverage of the incumbent President.”
With all polls pointing to a landslide victory, Aliyev barely participated in the election campaign and declined to appear in televised debates with the other candidates.
Turnout was 73 percent, or 3.7 million of Azerbaijan's 5.3 million registered voters, according to the country’s election commission.
Aliyev thanked his supporters during an appearance on television early Thursday.
“I once again thank you for the trust in me over the past 10 years and going forward I will strive to improve the life of our people,” he told AZTV television channel.
Opposition candidate Hasanli's campaign headquarters said in a statement Wednesday that there was widescale voting fraud during the elections, including attempts to expel election observers from polling stations, ballot-stuffing and multiple voting by individuals.
No election in Azerbaijan, which is sandwiched between Iran and Russia, has ever been deemed free and fair by observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
Tucked above Iran’s northern border, Azerbaijan is the only European gateway to the rich hydrocarbon resources of the Caspian that is not under Russian control. Critics have suggested that its geopolitical importance for Europe and the United States has shielded it from more intense Western criticism.
The Aliyev dynasty has been at the center of Azerbaijani government for almost four decades. A favorable vote in a 2009 referendum to change the constitution paved the way for Aliyev to stand for a third term. Heads of state in the former Soviet republic were previously limited to only two terms in office.