October 12, 2013 - 14:46 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Restrictions on free expression and assembly and reports of ballot stuffing and vote fraud have undermined the credibility of Azerbaijan’s presidential elections, Freedom House said, calling on the European Union to prioritize human rights and democracy in Azerbaijan at the Eastern Partnership Summit that will take place in November 2013 in Vilnius, and suspend negotiations on visa facilitation for Azerbaijani government officials.
The government crackdowns on independent media, civil society organizations, political activists and supporters of the opposition candidates eliminated any possibility that the election would be free or fair. Opposition candidates were largely denied access to mass media during a campaign that lasted only 21 days, and freedom of assembly was severely hindered in the lead-up to the elections, while the incumbent President, Ilham Aliyev, extensively used state resources, which secured him nearly 85 percent of the votes. Concerns about the level of fraud intensified on the eve of the elections, when information available through a mobile application run by the Central Election Commission “leaked” the outcome of the next day’s voting to social networks, in which Aliyev was assured of a landslide victory, Freedom House said.
“The government of Azerbaijan has shown blatant disregard for its international obligations in the conduct of this election,” commented David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. “President Aliyev’s ‘victory’ is badly tainted and lacks legitimacy, raising questions about how, even whether, he should be received at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius at the end of next month.”
“Given the repressive political climate, the critical flaws in the October 9 balloting were not unexpected,” said Katherin Machalek, a Caucasus analyst for Freedom in the World. “But unlike in the wake of unfair elections in Russia and Ukraine in recent years, democratic governments have remained fairly quiet about the vote. Azerbaijan appears to enjoy a certain immunity from criticism thanks to its strategic cooperation with the West. Among other roles, it serves as a major energy supplier to Europe and a key transit point for the U.S. military’s operations in Afghanistan.”
“The regime in Baku has done everything it can to safeguard this immunity, actively cultivating relationships with lawmakers and other officials in influential countries. Its work appeared to pay off this week, as election congratulations rolled in from friendly members of the U.S. Congress,” Machalek said.
Azerbaijan is rated Not Free in Freedom of the World 2013, Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2013, and Partly Free in Freedom on the Net 2013.