Few people honestly thought that Azerbaijan stood a serious chance of conducting a fair and free presidential election on October 9. As I have written extensively, since the beginning of the year, Azerbaijani authorities have been engaged in an unprecedented crackdown to silence all forms of criticism and dissent. The underlying climate simply did not allow for a fair competition – not to mention that Azerbaijan has not held a single authentically democratic election since Aliyev came to power in 2003. Still, the brazen nature of the electoral violations that took place surprised even close observers of Azerbaijan. A day before the election, Meydan TV, a satellite/Internet television station, broke the story that set the tone for the whole election, which became known as the “AppGate” scandal. Meydan TV exposed an apparent fault of the Central Election Commission’s mobile phone application to allow users to track election results. On October 8, Meydan TV discovered that the results section of the application was showing, giving incumbent President Ilham Aliyev 72.76 percent of the vote before a single vote had been cast.
The mistake was quickly discovered and that section of the application closed, and both the application developer and the Central Election Commission stated that the displayed results had merely been part of a test. But the damage was done; whether or not the dubious claim that the developer had been testing the system was true, the scandal gave greater cause for concern over the credibility of the election, the results of which many already feared would be pre-fabricated.
In Azerbaijan, pro-democracy advocates face major challenges
Election day itself was rife with violations, including ballot-box stuffing and carousel voting, which involves people casting votes at multiple polling stations. Videos, photos, and testimonies of electoral fraud flooded the Internet, and are still trickling in as the official results are analysed For example, activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev discovered several precincts where 100 percent of the vote had been awarded to Aliyev, a near-impossible feat in a fair contest.
Results posted by the Central Election Commission as of October 10 claimed Aliyev had won 84.55 percent of the vote. The only candidate widely agreed to be in opposition to Aliyev, the National Council coalition’s candidate, Jamil Hasanli, was given a paltry 5.53 percent. The remainder was scattered among the other eight candidates.
The Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center, Azerbaijan’s largest and most experienced domestic monitoring organisation, noted in its preliminary statement that the election “was marred with violation[s] of national legislation of the Republic of Azerbaijan and international standards, [and] therefore cannot be considered free and democratic.”
Full Article: Azerbaijan’s ‘AppGate’ – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.