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Azerbaijan ruling party wins polls, opposition cries fraud

AFP  |  Baku 

Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev's ruling party celebrated Monday a win in parliamentary polls but the opposition claimed the election was "totally falsified".

Faced with public discontent over a slowing economy, Aliyev, 58, hoped to boost the government's image by holding early elections and replacing discredited old elites with younger technocrats.

Counting showed the Yeni (New) Azerbaijan party with 65 seats in the 125-member parliament, after 87 per cent of electoral precincts declared results in the first-past-the-post ballot, said central election commission chief Mazahir Panahov.

The sole opposition politician who made it to the new legislature was Erkin Gadirly of Republican Alternative Party (ReAl) party while all the other parties represented in the parliament, the Milli Majlis, are seen as pro-Aliyev.

On Sunday night, Vice Prime Minister and Yeni Azerbaijan executive secretary Ali Ahmedov congratulated his party on "yet another great victory" after exit polls put it on a course to win a majority of seats.

"We are grateful to those who have voted in support of our president's policies," Ahmedov told journalists.

The ruling party -- which faced little challenge from the embattled opposition -- had promised a democratic election, but opposition parties accused the government of limiting their ability to campaign and several parties boycotted the vote.

"The elections were totally falsified," opposition leader Arif Gadjily of the Musavat party told AFP after the polls closed, denouncing what he claimed was widespread ballot stuffing and multiple voting.

More than 5.3 million people were eligible to vote, and turnout stood at 47.8 percent, election officials said.

Elections had originally been scheduled for November this year but in December Aliyev called early polls after a surprise dissolution of the legislature that is dominated by his ruling party.

The move followed the replacement of the prime minister and a number of veteran officials within the presidential administration and the government.

Analyst Anar Mammadli noted that public anger over economic problems has been growing in the South Caucasus country of nine million people.

"Aliyev chose to hold elections eight months ahead of schedule as he fears that protest sentiment would grow further by November," he said.

Highly dependent on oil exports, the country has since 2015 been hit by a drop in energy prices and the global economic downturn, and has sharply devalued its currency, the manat.

With most powers concentrated in the presidency, parliament has a limited role in the Caspian nation's political system.

Electoral commissions are controlled by Aliyev's party and all of the oil-rich country's television stations refused to allocate airtime to the opposition parties.

Prominent opposition leader Isa Gambar decried draconian restrictions on freedom of assembly in Azerbaijan where "people are being arrested and tortured" for taking part in peaceful protest rallies.

None of the elections held in Azerbaijan since Aliyev came to power have been recognised as free and fair by international observers.

Aliyev has ruled the ex-Soviet state with an iron fist since he was first elected in 2003, after the death of his father, Azerbaijan's Soviet-era Communist leader and former KGB general Heydar Aliyev.

Under the Aliyev dynasty, Baku has faced strong international criticism for persecuting political opponents and suffocating independent media.

Sunday's ballot has been monitored by international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, February 10 2020. 13:38 IST
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