Western Observers Say Vote Fell Short
BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Western observers said Monday
that Azerbaijan's weekend parliamentary elections fell far short
of international standards due to widespread irregularities in
voting and vote counting.
A threat of unrest hung over the country as the
opposition Azadliq coalition demanded repeat elections for 100
of the 125 seats in the parliament and vowed to hold their largest
protest rally yet on Wednesday.
Preliminary official results on Monday gave President
Ilham Aliyev's ruling New Azerbaijan Party the lead in 62 seats
and independents -- many of whom are government loyalists -- the
lead in 42, leaving the opposition with just 10.
Partial results from an exit poll for the U.S.
Agency for International Development that were released Monday
contradicted the official results in nine districts, putting seven
Azadliq candidates ahead of pro-government candidates.
A pro-government member of the Central Elections
Commission, Fuad Javadov, denied there had been widespread fraud
in Sunday's elections. "The election process ran normally.
There were isolated flaws, that's all," he said.
But Alcee Hastings, the head of the Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe's observer mission, said
the vote "did not meet a number of OSCE and Council of Europe
standards for democratic elections."
"It pains me to note that there were a number
of significant deficiencies in the vote count by the authorities,"
He also criticized the government for banning
opposition rallies in the run-up to the elections.
Leo Platvoet, head of a Council of Europe delegation,
said that 43 percent of vote counts observed by the more than
650 Western observers had been "bad or very bad." He
criticized state television coverage during the campaign, saying
that while equal airtime for campaign ads had been respected,
the rest of state media coverage had been "overwhelmingly
in favor" of the ruling party.
The United States called on the Azeri government
"to take immediate investigations into these irregularities
and fraud consistent with Azerbaijan's laws," State Department
spokesman Adam Ereli said, The Associated Press reported.
Ereli also said the United States was urging
that "all protests and demonstrations need to be peaceful."
Aliyev said his government would review the Western
criticism and take steps to correct shortcomings. He insisted,
however, that violations had occurred only in a small number of
Opposition leaders estimated they had won "50
to 60" more seats than the official figures showed.