Azeri Opposition: 'Election Is a Turning Point'
Published: October 11, 2013 (Issue # 1781)
As expected, Wednesday's presidential election in Azerbaijan was neither free, nor fair. International observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said that 58 percent of all observed vote counts were bad or very bad, declaring that the "October 9 election was undermined by limitations on the freedoms of expression, assembly and association that did not guarantee a level playing field for candidates." Mass-scale vote rigging, ballot stuffing and carousel voting were documented, both by our own and independent observers.
On Oct. 8, just hours ahead of the vote, an independent media outlet reported that as a result of a brief malfunction, a mobile phone app developed by the Central Electoral Commission leaked the results, giving Aliyev more than 70 percent of the vote. The scandal is gathering pace, with international media already dubbing it "AppGate." Moreover, the election took place in the context of an intensified and systematic crackdown on the opposition, civil society and independent media. Human rights organizations report some 142 political prisoners in Azerbaijan today.
I have already called for the election result to be annulled. The National Council of Democratic Forces does not recognize Ilham Aliyev's usurpation of power and will oppose this outcome. However, it is important to recognize that this election marks a turning point in Azerbaijani politics.
The Azerbaijani democratic movement is now united in a single organization — the National Council of Democratic Forces — which elected me as its single candidate. The National Council has brought together major opposition parties — Musavat and Popular Front — civic organizations, the Azeri intelligentsia, youth activists and civil society campaigners. Despite major challenges, the National Council carried out a robust and hard-hitting nationwide campaign, laying the foundation for an active, grassroots movement. The Azeri opposition is now stronger than at any point since Ilham Aliyev inherited power from his father in 2003.
Moreover, this election served as the framework for my legal challenge against Aliyev's unconstitutional candidacy for a third term as president. The changes brought about by the constitutional referendum of 2009, which removed the limits on the number of terms a president can serve, are increasingly seen as incompatible with Azerbaijan's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. But, more importantly, the referendum took place after Aliyev was elected president in 2008 and he is, therefore, bound by the old, "two-terms only,'' constitution. In this instance constitutional laws do not have retroactive powers.
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