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State Dept. knocks election in Azerbaijan

- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Obama administration said Thursday that the election of Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev to an an unprecedented third term fell short of international standards.

"On Election Day, procedural irregularities were observed including: 1) ballot box stuffing; 2) serious problems with vote counting; and 3) failure to record the number of received ballots," deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

Azerbaijan's national election commission announced that Mr. Aliyev had won nearly 85 percent of the votes that had been counted. The main opposition candidate, Jamil Hasanli, had picked up 5.2 percent of the vote.

Mr. Aliyev was first elected in October 2003 in a vote that also was seen as flawed. He succeeded his father, Heydar Aliyev, who ruled Azerbaijan from 1993 until his death in December 2003.

Since coming to power, the younger Mr. Aliyev has cracked down on the opposition and scrapped term limits for the presidency.

In the run-up to Wednesday's vote, the Aliyev administration "maintained a repressive political environment" and authorities "interfered with the media and civil society routinely, sometimes violently interrupted peaceful rallies and meetings before and occasionally during the campaign period, and jailed a number of opposition and youth activists," Ms. Harf said. "It is with regret that we conclude this election fell short of international standards."

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also noted shortcomings in the election.

Ms. Harf said the Obama administration shared its concerns and that nongovernmental organizations, including the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center, reported similar shortcomings.

The Azerbaijani Embassy in Washington said in a statement that the former Soviet republic had taken "a significant stride toward its full democratization in holding open and fair presidential elections."

"No election is perfect, and Azerbaijan acknowledges that its electoral processes can be improved," the embassy said. "However, the 2013 elections are a historic moment for the Western-facing country committed to strengthening its democratic society."

While critical of the election, Ms. Harf said the administration noted the OSCE's acknowledgement of constructive steps taken by the Aliyev administration, including the registration of Mr. Hasanli and other opposition candidates.

"Democracy is more than one election," Ms. Harf said, urging the government of Azerbaijan to respect the freedoms of peaceful assembly, association and speech, and to avoid post-election violence.

"We remain committed to supporting the people of Azerbaijan and working with the government to further efforts to achieve Azerbaijan's full potential as a stable, prosperous, and democratic member of the international community," she said.

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