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As Ballots Pile Up, So Do The Reports Of Irregularities In Azerbaijan's Presidential Vote

Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev (center) and his family arrive in Nagorno-Karabakh to vote in a presidential election on February 7.
Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev (center) and his family arrive in Nagorno-Karabakh to vote in a presidential election on February 7.

As Azerbaijanis began voting in a snap presidential election, reports trickled in of alleged abuses, all of them very familiar to the international monitors who had come to watch the vote.

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service collected reports of alleged irregularities in the February 7 poll, including so-called carousel voting, where individuals are transported to multiple polling stations to vote more than once; faulty markings with indelible ink intended to prevent repeat voting; ballot tampering; and multiple voters gathering in a single booth to cast ballots.

President Ilham Aliyev called the February 7 election two months ago, saying that Azerbaijan's lighting military offensive in September 2023 to recapture Nagorno-Karabakh had ushered in a "new era" and should be marked by new polls. The majority of the country's legitimate opposition chose to boycott the vote.

RFE/RL also reported complaints from residents in Azerbaijan's central district of Imishli that employees of kindergartens and secondary schools were being ordered to come to work even though February 7 is a public holiday. Residents said that the workers photographed themselves in a group and then sent those images to the education department election officers. They were then sent to polling stations in small groups, Imishli residents told RFE/RL.

Azerbaijan's Election Looks Set To Hand President Aliyev Fifth Term
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A representative of the Imishli district executive authority, Muhammad Ismayilov, denied the accusation, saying he had "not set foot" in a local polling station and had "voted with…family members in the morning at precinct No. 40 in the village of Garadonlu."

"They told my children if you don't go [to vote], don't come to work," one 80-year-old voter from the capital, Baku, said.

With polls now closed, President Aliyev is on track to win a fifth consecutive election victory.

International monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation In Europe (OSCE) also pointed to the alleged obstruction of an independent observer by police and an electoral official.

Javid Nabiyev, an election observer in Baku's Nasimi-Sabail electoral district, filed a complaint to authorities after he said he was expelled from a polling place with the help of police.

Video from another polling station showed electoral workers handling ballots that had already been cut in advance, in what is considered to be a violation. In Azerbaijan, the upper corner of a ballot paper should be cut by an electoral official just before being presented to a voter.

Journalists reported being prevented from filming at another polling station on the grounds that they were not in the media registry, despite an assurance from the Central Election Commission that they could "operate freely by presenting their press card." The commission told Turan, an Azerbaijani-based independent news agency, that "misunderstandings" can arise if such a card is presented, and election officials "don't know who they are."

Turan reported that two polling locations in the Sabunchu and Binagadi districts of the capital, Baku, saw the practice of carousel voting, in which busloads of voters travel from one polling station to the next. Speaking to Turan, however, local electoral officials denied the allegations.

People line up to vote at a polling station in Baku on February 7.
People line up to vote at a polling station in Baku on February 7.

Ahead of the February 7 presidential vote, the election mission of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) had warned in its interim report of detentions and arrests; restrictions imposed on media and journalists; and "the country-wide blocking of some major critical media websites."

ODIHR concluded that Azerbaijan's last national elections -- a parliamentary vote in February 2020, in which Aliyev's ruling New Azerbaijan Party cruised to an easy majority -- had fallen below the standards for democratic polls, citing particular shortcomings on election day.

ODIHR found a "statistically high" rate of negative assessments at observed polling stations that suggested "serious procedural shortcomings" as well as a "blatant disregard" for safeguards against manipulations. It also cited "impediments [that] undermined the transparency of election day procedures."

There is little doubt that the 62-year-old Aliyev will win. He has won each of his past reelections with at least 85 percent of the vote.

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