Azeri ruling party claims victory in parliamentary election

by Reuters
Sunday, 1 November 2015 17:21 GMT

(Updates with exit polls, background)

By Nailia Bagirova

BAKU, Nov 1 (Reuters) - Azeri President Ilham Aliyev's ruling Yeni Azerbaijan (New Azerbaijan) claimed victory in a parliamentary election on Sunday that mainstream opposition and international monitors were 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.

"According to our estimations, Yeni Azerbaijan candidates have been elected ... Exit poll results make us think that Yeni Azerbaijan will have a majority in a new parliament again," the party's executive secretary, Ali Akhmedov, told reporters.

The party had 71 out of 125 seats in the previous parliament, which is elected every five years.

"I think that we'll get not less than 70 seats in a new parliament," Akhmedov said.

All exit polls, conducted by local and foreign companies, indicated a victory for the ruling party victory.

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," opposition Musavat Party leader, Arif Gajily, told Reuters. "Our observers monitored a lot of violations, including ballot stuffing, during the vote."

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

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 monitoring impossible.

The Azeri President, who left his 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. (Reporting by Nailia Bagirova; Writing by Margarita Antidze in Tblisi; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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