International observers saw many electoral abuses during the snap presidential elections in Azerbaijan on February 7, which resulted in an anticipated victory for incumbent President Ilham Aliyev.
The preliminary results that have been announced claim Aliyev secured over 92% of the vote on a 76.73% turnout – an all-time high.
"These figures simply do not correspond to reality," observer Azer Gasimli told RFE/RL. "We witnessed authorities orchestrating the movement of voters in coordinated groups. In the early hours of the election, large numbers of employees from state institutions were transported by bus to polling stations. Furthermore, there were instances of carousel voting. Finally, during our conversations with individuals on the ground, many indicated their intention not to participate in the vote."
Gasimli claimed, based on his experience, that voter turnout was likely even lower than 20%.
According to the preliminary findings released by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) at a press conference, there were many flaws.
According to the OSCE, the election occurred within a restrictive atmosphere, marked by a lack of critical voices and political alternatives. Despite efficient preparation, the OSCE observed significant procedural errors and limitations on fundamental freedoms, impacting voters' ability to make an informed choice. The legal framework was criticised for deviating from international standards and OSCE commitments, particularly concerning media and political party laws.
The report highlighted a low-key campaign that failed to engage the public meaningfully, with no genuine competition observed. Furthermore, issues regarding voter registration, candidate eligibility, and the lack of transparency in the signature collection and verification process were noted.
The OSCE also pointed out the underrepresentation of women in political life and inconsistencies in campaign finance oversight. The media environment was described as significantly constrained, limiting independent journalism and critical discourse. Lastly, the OSCE expressed concerns over the election dispute resolution process's impartiality and effectiveness.
Observers reported ballot box stuffing in 29 polling stations, indications of seemingly identical signatures on voter lists in 5% of observations, group voting in 4% of observations, and improperly sealed ballot boxes in nearly 4% of observed polling stations.
The counting process was negatively assessed in more than half (61) of the 113 counts observed due to substantial procedural errors and omissions. Indications of ballot box stuffing were noted, including clumps or stacks of ballots in 13 cases.
According to the OSCE, the negligible coverage of contestants in the media throughout the entire campaign, except for limited free presentations on İctimai TV (Public TV) and a few paid political advertisements, restricted voters' ability to learn about the contestants and their programmes. The media environment was heavily skewed in favour of Aliyev, with extensive positive news coverage, while critical coverage of the government and Aliyev was almost completely absent.
According to Azerbaijani columnist Arzu Geybulla, the falsifications happened mainly because, in the absence of any experience of holding free and fair elections, Aliyev wanted to avoid a surprise outcome.
Independent observers reported harassment by state officials.
"When we attempted to inspect the ballots more closely, we were threatened with removal by the police. This intimidation occurred throughout the day, with one state-appointed observer even shoving me aside, despite my presence in no way obstructing their view," Nilufar Afandiyeva, an independent observer told theAzerbaijani service of Voice of America.
Pro-government media scolded journalists and observers who exposed electoral fraud. Xəzər Xəbər, a media outlet owned by state oil company SOCAR, expressed discontent with the fact that Azerbaijani observers found electoral fraud by examining official observation cameras live. The TV channel even suggested that these journalists should be punished, although they also agreed that electoral fraud captured by these cameras happened.