BAKU — Election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have raised “serious questions” about the validity of Azerbaijan’s presidential election, which saw incumbent Ilham Aliyev secure a fifth term with more than 90 percent of the vote.

The election was “not competitive” and “was held in a restrictive environment”, OSCE monitors told a news conference in the capital, Baku, on Thursday, a day after the poll. They said that “recent arrests of critical journalists have hindered the media from operating freely”.

“While six other candidates participated in the campaign, none of them convincingly challenged the incumbent president’s policies in their campaigns, leaving voters without any genuine alternative,” the monitors said.

The OSCE noted “issues of secrecy of the vote, a lack of safeguards against multiple voting, indications of ballot stuffing”, raising “serious questions about whether ballots were counted and reported honestly”.

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.”

The Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center (EMDS) a non-governmental organization dedicated to promoting free and fair elections, civil liberties, and democratic development in Azerbaijan, concluded that the early presidential election on February 7, 2024, was conducted in an environment lacking democratic principles and real political competition, violating national and international standards for free and fair elections.

Video from polling stations 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.”

 

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