Azerbaijan's ruling party seen easily winning election

by Reuters
Sunday, 1 November 2015 16:14 GMT

* Opposition cries foul, boycotts election

* OSCE not monitoring poll, citing restrictions

* President says OSCE's decision "unacceptable"

* Rights groups accuse government of curbing freedoms (Updates with polls closing, new quotes)

By Nailia Bagirova

BAKU, Nov 1 (Reuters) - Azeris voted in a parliamentary election on Sunday which Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev's ruling party is widely expected to win, and which mainstream opposition and international monitors are shunning.

Aliyev has consolidated his power since succeeding his father and long-serving leader Heydar in 2003, presiding over a period when officials say revenues from rising oil and gas exports have delivered better living standards.

Rights groups accuse the government of curbing freedoms and of silencing dissent, while the opposition complains of harassment, a lack of access to broadcasting, and draconian restrictions on campaigning.

The government denies wrongdoing, and Western governments, who are courting Azerbaijan as an alternative source of oil and gas to Russia, balance their criticism over human rights with strategic considerations.

Azerbaijan is host to oil majors including BP PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp and Chevron Corp.

The Opposition has already cried foul.

"The election in Azerbaijan is conducted in an undemocratic environment. Our observers monitored a lot of violations, including ballot stuffing, during the vote," opposition Musavat Party leader, Arif Gajily, told Reuters.

Musavat and other mainstream opposition parties in Azerbaijan, a mainly Muslim country of about 9 million people between Iran, Russia and Turkey, are boycotting the poll.

All 125 seats in the single-chamber parliament, which is elected every five years, will be filled through voting for individual candidates in electoral districts.

Polls closed at 7 p.m. (1500 GMT) and official preliminary results were expected to follow within hours.

Human Rights Watch said this week that Azeri authorities had convicted or imprisoned at least 35 journalists and rights and political activists in 2014 and that "the crackdown continued at a dizzying pace."

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said it would not monitor the election because restrictions imposed on it by the authorities made credible poll monitoring impossible.

Azeri President, who left the polling station without making any statement earlier today, said later that the OSCE's decision not to monitor the poll "was not acceptable."

Some foreign journalists, including reporters from Reuters, were not issued with accreditation to cover the election. The foreign ministry cited technical difficulties. (Additional reporting and writing by Margarita Antidze in TBILISI; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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