Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Azerbaijan elections 'failed to meet international standards'

DeHavilland Information Services plc - 7 November 2005

Independent observers have declared that yesterday's elections in Azerbaijan were undermined by "significant deficiencies".

According to inspectors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the proceedings were riddled with voting and vote-counting irregularities.

They singled out media bias and interference from authorities as tarnishing the results of the election, which saw the ruling New Azerbaijan Party win 65 of the 125 seats.

"The shortcomings that were observed, particularly during election day, have led us to conclude that the elections did not meet Azerbaijan's international commitments on elections," said Alcee L Hastings, president of the OSCE parliamentary assembly.

"It pains me to report that progress noted in the pre-election period was undermined by significant deficiencies in the count."

Local observers also reported instances of harassment, with some reporting that they were intimidated or forcibly removed from polling stations.

The opposition Azadlyq bloc won just five seats and has called on its supporters to take to the streets in protest, fuelling concerns of violent unrest similar to that seen in neighbouring Uzbekistan.

President Ilham Aliyev has vowed to crack down on any large-scale public protest in the aftermath of the elections, the first in the former Soviet state since he was voted into office in 2003, in another election riddled with controversy.

Nevertheless, despite the widespread reports of irregularities, Charles Tannock, a Conservative MEP who was acting as an observer in Azerbaijan over the weekend, pronounced himself satisfied with the fairness of the elections.

"I was fully expecting a repeat of the 2003 presidential election, which was widely criticised by international observers as deeply flawed," he said.

"I was pleasantly surprised, along with the other MEP observers, that we observed a well conducted and transparent voting session in all the polling stations we monitored and a subsequent count which was carried out in an exemplary albeit laborious fashion."

Azerbaijan became a member of the Council of Europe in 2001 and is keen to demonstrate its commitment to democracy in a bid to attract greater European investment.