Aliyev Wins Azerbaijan Presidential Election

Ilham Aliyev won a third term as president of oil-rich Azerbaijan to extend his family’s four-decade rule in an election criticized by international observers as failing to provide a level playing field.

Aliyev, 51, tallied 84.6 percent in yesterday’s ballot with all votes counted, the Central Election Commission in Baku said on its website today. Camil Hasanli, the candidate backed by opposition parties, got 5.5 percent, with eight other contenders receiving votes, it said.

“With the support of the people, Ilham Aliyev will rule Azerbaijan for another five years,” Ali Ahmadov, deputy chairman of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party, said at a news conference in Baku, according to the private APA news service. The party celebrated with its supporters in the city center with a concert and fireworks.

The Azeri leader succeeded his late father in 2003 at the helm of the former Soviet Union’s third-largest oil producer and the only route for Caspian crude to Western markets bypassing Russia. He was re-elected five years ago, gaining 77 percent and 87 percent of the vote in the two elections, respectively. Neither contests were deemed free or fair by U.S. and European observers.

Hasanli, 61, was the first consensus candidate to challenge Aliyev, put forward by opposition groups united under the National Council of Democratic Forces.

‘Stark Reality’

The 57-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which sent an observer mission to monitor the elections, said the election failed to meet democratic standards.

“The stark reality is that this process has fallen well short of OSCE commitments in in most areas,” Tana de Zulueta, the head of the OSCE’s long-term election observation mission, said in a website statement. “The limitations placed on the fundamental freedoms of assembly, association, and expression, the lack of a level playing field, the allegations of intimidation all came in the lead up to an election day that our observers found to be seriously flawed.”

The central electoral commission said it didn’t receive any complaints, according to the private APA news service. Thousands of local and international observers from groups including the European Parliament and the OSCE monitored the election.

Opposition Response

The National Council of Democratic Forces demanded canceling the results and holding a repeat election.

The alliance “does not recognize the legitimacy of the executive structure formed through such elections,” it said in a statement posted on its Facebook Inc. page. “The results of these elections do not represent the free will of the nation.”

BP Plc and its partners have invested more than $40 billion in Caspian Sea energy projects in Azerbaijan since 1994 and plan to invest another $25 billion by the end of the decade to develop the Shah Deniz natural gas field to supply Europe via the Southern Gas Corridor, which bypasses Russia.

Buoyed by western energy investments, Aliyev has more than tripled the size of the economy in the past decade as oil and gas output surged. That fueled a sixfold jump in the average wage to 403 manat ($517) a month and slashed the official poverty rate to less than 6 percent of the population from almost half, according to the government’s statistics office.

Democracy ‘Triumph’

Aliyev said during a televised cabinet meeting Oct. 7 that he’s created more than 1 million new jobs through “massive” investment programs since taking power. His re-election resulted from a “triumph of democracy,” Aliyev said today in a televised address to the nation.

Still, Azerbaijan is ranked among the world’s most corrupt and repressive governments by Transparency International and Reporters Without Borders. Dozens of activists, journalists, bloggers and other critics have been arrested or convicted of “bogus charges” during the past 18 months, Human Rights Watch said in a Sept. 2 report.

The European Union last week warned of “continued pressure” on activists, civil society and independent media that includes “intimidation, arrests on dubious charges, detentions, and sentencing without proper respect for international standards and rights of the accused,” according to a statement signed by Catherine Ashton, the 28-nation bloc’s foreign policy chief, and Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule.

The EU’s assessment was rejected by Elnur Aslanov, an aide to Aliyev and a member of the ruling party’s political council. Aslanov said in an Oct. 4 interview in Baku that EU officials were “maliciously” seeking to influence the election and that Aliyev’s government has done “everything to ensure that the election is held in a free, fair and transparent atmosphere.”

The U.S. government, which uses Azerbaijan as a transit corridor for non-military shipments to Afghanistan, said it hopes the election will be “a step” toward greater political freedom in the country.

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