U.S.: Azerbaijan elections were not 'free and fair'

Oct. 10, 2013 at 2:32 PM
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BAKU, Azerbaijan, Oct. 10 (UPI) -- The United States says the election in Azerbaijan, where President Ilham Aliyev was re-elected with nearly 85 percent of the vote, was not "free and fair."

President Ilham Aliyev was elected Wednesday to a third term, the national election commission said Thursday, but opposition leaders and international observers said there had been "serious" electoral violations in the election. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe released a report Thursday alleging there was voter intimidation, media censorship and other violations during all stages of the voting process, RIA Novosti reported.

"The United States continuously urged the government of Azerbaijan to ensure a free and fair electoral process and to respect the freedoms of assembly, association, and speech," the State Department said Thursday. "It is with regret that we conclude this election fell short of international standards."

In a prerecorded speech Thursday, Aliyev, who previously changed election law eliminating term limits, thanked voters, the BBC reported.

"Azerbaijan will continue successfully to develop as a democratic country," he said. "The fact that this election was free and transparent is another serious step towards democracy."

Opposition leader Jamil Hasanli, who received 5.18 percent of the vote, said changes in election law that reduced the amount of time he had to campaign made it impossible for him to unseat Aliyev, The New York Times reported.

"In this election, the biggest shortage we had was time," he said, adding long car rides were the only way he could visit all 85 regions in the country. "Within 21 days, it's physically impossible to cover all these regions."

The State Department said in a news release "other credible non-government organizations such as the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center reported similar shortcomings" -- including ballot box stuffing and "serious problems with vote counting."

"Leading up to election day, the government of Azerbaijan also maintained a repressive political environment," the release said. "Authorities interfered with the media and civil society routinely, sometimes violently interrupted peaceful rallies and meetings before and occasionally during the campaign period, and jailed a number of opposition and youth activists."

The U.S. State Department credited the Azerbaijan government with having taken "constructive steps" during the campaign, "including the successful registration of Jamil Hasanli and certain other opposition candidates, authorization of some opposition campaign rallies, the decision to invite the OSCE to observe the election, and efficient technical preparation for the election."

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