Voters in Azerbaijan went to the polls yesterday in parliamentary elections decried by the opposition as a sham vote that will strengthen Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s grip on power without bringing any real change.
Parliamentary elections had been scheduled for November this year, but Aliyev in December last year called early polls after a surprise self-dissolution of the legislature that is dominated by his ruling party.
The move followed a replacement of the prime minister and a number of veteran officials within the presidential administration and the government.
Critics say that Aliyev, 58, seeks to address growing public discontent over an economic slowdown and to improve his government’s image by replacing discredited old elites with younger technocrats.
The opposition had accused the government of limiting their ability to campaign and several parties are boycotting the vote.
“I voted for an opposition candidate,” taxi driver Ilgar Gasymov, 58, said at a polling station in the capital, Baku. “Only the opposition cares about ordinary people’s problems.”
Vafa Alekperova, a 43-year-old schoolteacher, said she voted for a ruling party candidate.
“I trust the party and my hopes for a better future are tied to it,” she said.
Central Election Commission chief Mazahir Panahov said that “all conditions” had been created for a free and fair vote, but electoral commissions are controlled by Aliyev’s party and all of the country’s television stations have refused to allocate airtime to representatives of the opposition.
“There aren’t even minimal conditions in Azerbaijan for holding democratic elections,” said Ali Karimli, leader of the opposition Popular Front party, which is boycotting the polls.
Another prominent opposition leader, Isa Gambar of the Musavat party, which is taking part in the vote, complained that authorities had “totally falsified all the previous polls.”
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