By-elections to the Azerbaijani parliament were held on April 12 for 3 seats in majoritarian districts. 17 candidates contested the three seats. According to the information center of the Central Electoral Committee, (CEC) elections were valid in all three districts, as a turnout of over 25% was registered in all three areas. Pro-government candidates won in all three areas, and the opposition immediately declared that the results of elections were falsified by officials in favor of their protégés.
The results were announced on April 13: In the 24th Narimanov I. District, Vagif Abdullayev was declared victorious, as were Mikail Mirzoev in the 29th Ali-Bayramly-Salyan district and Nizami Ahmedov in 31-st Kapaz, all candidates of the ruling “Yeni Azerbaijan” party. Meanwhile, evidence of violations of the law were reported from several polling districts. As reported by the press service of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PNFA, ‘reformers’ wing) ballot stuffing, interference of local authorities’ representatives during voting, and police arrests of observers supporting one of the candidates were among the most serious violations.
PNFA ‘reformers’ leader Ali Kerimli claimed that the by-elections were totally falsified. At a press-conference just after elections, Kerimli noted that the “head of executive authorities and police departments managed the process of falsification, and international observers were turned away from polling stations”. Isa Gambar, leader of the ‘Musavat’ main opposition party, described the elections in a similar fashion. ”The by-elections had no relation to the concept of elections“, Gambar said. A number of members of parliament raised the issue of rigged elections at a regular session of parliament, and Ali Kerimli tried to attract the attention of the CEC and relevant state authorities to these accusations. Another Member of Parliament from the PNFA, Asim Mollazade, stated that more than 40 observers from foreign countries observed the elections and supported his allegations.
Members of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP) replied to these accusations. According to YAP YAP executive secretary Ali Akhmedov, members of the opposition knew in advance that they had little chances to win and hence left the polling stations, aiming to mislead international observers on officials’ conduct. According to Akhmedov, “the elections passed without any violations, and any complaints from the opposition are groundless”.
The reaction of the international observers from the U.S., the U.K., and a series of international organizations came only after this domestic process of mutual incriminations had begun. The British Embassy in Baku as late as April 17 issued a press release, drawing attention to the fact that a group of observers noted numerous and serious violations of law during the election, some less serious as family voting, but also the presence of policy at polling stations and open ballot stuffing.
A report prepared by the British Embassy was sent to the CEC. The British Ambassador, Andrew Tucker noted that “having given support to the Central Election Commission to improve the training it gives officials, we are disappointed that these elections suffered from the same problems as before. There is still work to be done to bring elections in Azerbaijan in line with international standards. We intend to continue our co-operation with the Azerbaijani government and the CEC towards this goal.” On the same day, April 17, the CEC decided to ask the Constitutional Court for affirmation of the results of the by-elections.
Owing to serious breaches of the law, the CEC cancelled the results of the by-elections of two polling stations in the 29th Ali-Bayramly-Salyan, and of 5 polling stations in the 24th Narimanov I districts. The decision was made basing based on the appeals of candidates. The deputy chairman of the CEC, Svetlana Gasimova, informed that elections results in these districts may be cancelled if law-enforcement bodies confirm the occurrence of violations.
Analyzing the election results, independent observers said the unconditional victory of government-oriented candidates evoked a certain amusement. Judging by the elections results, the leadership decided not to play democracy. Given the huge majority of the government party in the parliament, a victory of the opposition in one or two districts would change nothing to the ratio of power. But the authorities wanted a crushing victory. In all three districts, government-oriented candidates won with landslides. There no faint resemblance of a competition. This raises the question why authorities at this stage needed to demonstrate their power in this way?
Political scientist Rasim Musabeyov claimed the opposition will undoubtedly use the by-elections results to give proof of the radicalization of its position: “The election results have a place in the tactics of the government’s struggle with the opposition on the eve of presidential elections. The matter is that some leading opposition leaders have assurance that at forthcoming presidential elections, they will be in a position to a struggle with a candidate from the governing elite, regardless who it will be. A landslide victory of the government in by-elections is meant to demonstrate to society that opposition leaders do not have the slightest chance at forthcoming presidential elections”.Gulnara Ismailova, a freelance journalist based in Baku, Azerbaijan.