Azerbaijan’s Central Electoral Commission convened on November 8 to begin considering complaints of electoral fraud in the November 6 parliamentary elections. The CEC ordered recounts of the vote in certain electoral districts where pro-government candidates had purportedly won, and requested the Prosecutor-General’s Office to check why violations were committed in those districts. Representatives of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Washington-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), and the U.S. Embassy in Baku were present during the CEC’s session.
On November 9, President Ilham Aliyev dismissed the heads of district administrations of four districts (Bingadi, Sumgait, Sheki, Surakhani) for violations of the electoral legislation and of Aliyev’s May 11 and October 25 decrees on the conduct of parliamentary elections. Also on November 9, the Prosecutor-General’s Office detained the chief executives of the Bingadi and Sumgait districts, as well as the respective chairmen of the district electoral commissions. They are charged with fraudulent vote counting, falsification of election reports, and abuse of authority. In addition, CEC-ordered recounts have already been conducted or are in progress in the Sabail and Zagatala electoral districts. In all of those districts, pro-government candidates were proclaimed winners on election night against opposition leaders.
The recounts have already reversed or look set to reverse those outcomes. Popular Front of Azerbaijan Party (PFPA) chairman Ali Kerimli, Musavat vice-chairwoman Arzu Samedbeyli (Samedova), and opposition activist Flora Kerimova (a popular singer who supports the radical Azadliq [Freedom] bloc) have now been declared winners. In addition, Democratic Party Secretary-General Sardar Jalal-oglu, PFPA vice-chairman Hasan Kerimov, and Musavat vice-chairman Arif Hajili are the probable winners of recounts in these districts (Turan, Trend, ANS TV, November 8, 9).
Most of these districts were not included in the exit poll conducted on election day by the Washington-based firm PA Consulting with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). During the electoral campaign, the opposition had expressed full confidence in the integrity of this exit-poll project (in preference to other offers). The poll covered 65 electoral districts, randomly selected out of Azerbaijan’s 125. In 53 of the districts covered, the officially declared winners were the same as the candidates who placed first in the exit poll. Only in 12 electoral districts did the exit poll identify other winners than the CEC-declared ones. Samedbeyli, Kerimov, and the moderate YES (New Policy) opposition bloc’s founding leader Eldar Namazov were among those 12 exit poll winners. In Washington, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried commented that the U.S.-sponsored exit poll “suggests that the government would have won anyway”; but that the government must take swift action to prosecute the fraud cases (AFP, November 7).
The European Union’s British Presidency has issued — and circulated in Baku — its own assessment of the elections, implicitly but unmistakably distancing itself from the gist of OSCE/ODIHR’s severely negative evaluation. The brief EU/British document begins with the positives, acknowledging improvements by comparison with past elections and welcoming the extensive international monitoring; but it notes that the elections “fell short of OSCE and other European standards,” and urges a full, quick, and transparent investigation into vote-counting and tabulation violations (EU Presidency release, November 7, 8).
The investigation now in progress could almost certainly not have been launched without Aliyev’s strong support. At the same time, the president has brushed aside Moscow’s suggestions to mount a joint challenge to the findings of Western election observers.
On November 9, Russian President Vladimir Putin called to congratulate Aliyev on the successful holding of the elections, citing the Russian and CIS observers’ highly positive evaluation. Russia sent several large groups of election observers to Azerbaijan: as part of the CIS Election Observation Mission (EOM), as part of the OSCE/ODIHR delegation, and on Russia’s own behalf (from the Duma and other institutions). The Russian head of the CIS EOM, Vladimir Rushailo, in his news conference in Baku expressed full satisfaction with the conduct of the elections. The leaders of the Russian contingent in the OSCE/ODIHR observer delegation strongly contradicted that delegation’s assessment at their news conference back in Moscow; they also charged that the OSCE intended to “destabilize Azerbaijan.” Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement terming the OSCE/ODIHR’s steps “rash,” “prejudiced,” and “counterproductive” (Interfax, November 7-9).
Those demarches seemed designed to tempt Azerbaijan into aligning itself with Russia against the West on this issue, a move that could have severely damaged Azerbaijan as well as Western strategic interests. Azerbaijan has rejected such a Mephistophelian bargain.