Vote-Stuffing & Voter-Abuse Plague Azerbaijan’s Parliamentary Elections.

The ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) is set to gain a majority of seats in the Caucasus country’s single-chamber parliament, following snap elections that observers say will allow President Ilham Aliyev to remove elites associated with his father in a consolidation of power through reforms.

YAP candidates won 64 of the 125 seats in parliament, the Central Election Commission (CEC) said early on February 10 after 87 percent of electoral precincts declared returns. The CEC put the turnout at 47.81 percent, nearly eight percentage points less than in the previous parliamentary elections.

But nominally independent candidates, the vast majority of whom support YAP policies, took all but one of the rest of the seats in the February 9 elections, which were marred by apathy among voters and reports of irregularities such as multiple voting, interrupted video feeds at polling stations, and the hindrance and abuse of independent observers. Since Azerbaijan declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, its elections have repeatedly been deemed as falling short of democratic standards by international observers.

The 58-year-old Aliyev, who has ruled Azerbaijan since shortly before his father’s death 17 years ago, called the election in December, nine months before it was formally due, amid public discontent over a slowing economy. YAP said the composition of the legislature needed to be changed in order to carry out Aliyev’s “reform” program. Critics say Aliyev and his allies are seeking a way to ensure a line of succession that began with the president’s father, Heydar, a Soviet-era KGB leader and Politburo member who passed the presidency to his son shortly before his death.

Aliyev — who was reelected in 2008, 2013, and 2018 — was able to consolidate his power through a 2009 referendum that abolished the country’s two-term presidential limit and a 2016 referendum that lengthened presidential terms to seven years.

Some independent observers said they saw instances of carousel voting — when people visit multiple polling stations — and people casting multiple ballots at once. One candidate reported seeing an ambulance ferrying voters to multiple polling stations. One election monitor working for a candidate said he was beaten and thrown out out of a polling station he was attempting to observe. Other election monitors said they were being prevented from entering polling stations or were ordered to remain in certain locations. The Institute for Democratic Initiatives shared several videos of people interfering with observers seeking to record at polling stations.

Cameras were being blocked at some of the 1,000 or so voting locations that had live video feeds. One candidate, activist and blogger Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, told RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service that he was initially prevented from voting at a Baku polling station and was told he hadn’t registered properly. But an election official later said access to the polling station was being limited ahead of President Aliyev’s arrival there to vote. Meanwhile, apparent power outages cut the lights for more than half an hour at some polling stations in Suraxani and Hovsan, northeast of the capital.

Election officials registered 1,637 candidates. A total of 19 political parties fielded 272 of the candidates. They included 123 candidates from the ruling YAP, followed by 25 from the opposition Musavat party and 21 from the opposition Party of Hope (UMID). A total of 81 lawmakers, about two-thirds of the outgoing parliament, were seeking reelection.

H/T Radio Free Liberty Europe

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