#Azerbaijan president back in power with landslide

| April 12, 2018

Azerbaijan’s incumbent president Ilham Aliyev has been swept back into power with the overwhelming backing of 86% of the electorate, writes Tony Mallett in Baku.

Exit polls after the vote closed on 11 April estimated totals of between 83-86% in the incumbent’s favour and these were effectively confirmed this morning (12 April) by the country’s Central Election Commission.

While these are officially preliminary results, they represent some 92% of votes cast.

Countrywide turnout was around 75% of the more than five million citizens eligible to vote, with Aliyev’s nearest rivals polling around 3% each.

The winner will now begin his fourth consecutive term as the nation’s head of state.

Some 800 observers were invited by the Central Election Commission of Azerbaijan, including a delegation from the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR), the third-largest grouping in the European Parliament.

Speaking to journalists today, ECR delegation leader and Polish MEP Kosma Zlotowski said: “It is our evaluation that the elections themselves were conducted in accordance with the national legislation.

“Eight candidates ran for the office of president, ensuring a politically diverse and competitive environment.”

ECR member David Campbell Bannerman said: “We didn’t see anything that concerned us.”

The British MEP also praised the measures used to identify voters and guard against inaccuracies, saying: “I was impressed with the security measures – ID cards, left-thumb prints and the fact that they had to sign after voting. There were no postal or proxy votes like in some European elections, which can pose security problems.”

Asked whether the UK had anything to learn from the system in Azerbaijan, Campbell Bannerman said that this was a two-way learning process but that security methods were “better than in the UK in terms of identifying actual voters”.

He also said that the enthusiasm to vote among Azerbaijanis was noticeable.

The ECR group pointed out that some political parties boycotted the elections which the delegation felt had “affected the inclusive nature of the process, as voters were encouraged to refrain from participating”.

The election took place several months ahead of schedule due to a presidential decree made public on 5 February. The declaration drew criticism from opponents who claimed it gave them little time to prepare for a ballot.

The original election date was set for 17 October, 2018.

Another group of observers, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Turkic Speaking Countries (TURKPA) and the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States (Turkic Council) said in a joint statement: “The mission did not find any evidence of intervention of administrative or law enforcement authorities in the work at the polling stations.”

It added: “All necessary administrative measures were taken to ensure the free will of the people during the voting day.”

The statement continued: “We affirm that the election of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan was open, transparent and competitive, and complied with the national legislation of the Republic of Azerbaijan and generally accepted international election standards.”

Azerbaijan is predominantly Muslim but secular under its constitution. A survey  conducted before the election, undertaken by pollsters Arthur J. Finkelstein and Associates, indicated that the primary concern of voters is national security and that Aliyev is seen as particularly strong in a country surrounded by the powerhouses of Russia, Iran, and Turkey and partially occupied by Armenia.

The Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding territories – which has resulted in more than a million displaced Azerbaijanis – was a key topic for voters with the majority believing that Aliyev is “keeping the country safe” and “representing the nation well internationally”.

The occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh has been roundly condemned by the international community and the UN, which passed four resolutions calling for the unconditional withdrawal of Armenian troops from the Azerbaijani territories. The conflict between the two countries began when Armenia made territorial claims in 1988.

George Birnbaum, who is executive director of the Arthur J Finkelstein & Associates polling company, said last week that the “positive recognition for the job the president is doing is the reason he has the electoral support of the nation”.

Independent of the USSR since 1991, the Republic of Azerbaijan has been ruled by Aliyev since 2003. He was preceded in the role by his father, Heydar, who was president for a decade.

In recent years the Republic has worked hard to sell its ‘European’ credentials. Despite some human-rights concerns, this effort has been largely supported by Europe and has seen the country host various events such as the Eurovision song contest and major European sports tournaments.

Azerbaijan will also see its capital, Baku, act as a key football venue for the Euro 2020 football tournament and will host the Formula One Grand Prix on the city’s streets at the end of April.

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