The people of Azerbaijan went to the polls to elect a new parliament. But according to international observers, while there were improvements in some areas, this vote, like previous elections in Azerbaijan, was marred by fraud and abuse.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe pointed out that the government of President Ilham Aliyev had made some electoral improvements, including allowing the majority of candidates to register, permitting them to campaign on television, and marking voters with indelible ink. But these positive steps were undermined by the vote tallying.
“While voting was generally calm, the election day process deteriorated progressively during the counting and, in particular, the tabulation of votes,” said U.S. Representative Alcee Hastings, the Special Coordinator for the O-S-C-E observer mission. Other problems included unbalanced election commissions and their failure to effectively address a number of issues, including the handling of complaints, failure to prevent and prosecute interference in the campaign by local authorities, harassment and intimidation of candidates and supporters, and restrictions on the opposition’s right to assemble.
U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli says the Azerbaijan government should investigate charges of electoral abuse. "We note President Aliyev’s stated intent to take corrective action," he said. "The U.S. looks to his government to do so in those districts where impartial and transparent investigations show irregularities and fraud affected the results. We call on all citizens of Azerbaijan to address complaints about election violations through legal and peaceful channels and to refrain from violence."
Official election results indicate the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party won sixty-three of one-hundred twenty-five parliamentary seats. The main opposition coalition is reported to have won only six seats. The opposition has vowed to protest what it calls a “rigged” election.
It is critical that the Aliyev government impartially, thoroughly and transparently investigate charges of election fraud. The choices the government makes will have a profound impact on whether Azerbaijan moves toward democracy.
President George W. Bush has said that the U.S. has an interest in helping empower others to find the same freedom that Americans have known. That includes the people of Azerbaijan.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.