Voters in the oil-rich Caspian Sea nation of Azerbaijan cast ballots Sunday in a parliamentary election that is expected to secure the ruling party’s dominance. International rights groups have accused Azerbaijani authorities of limiting free speech, and the main trans-Atlantic security and rights group, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, has refused to monitor the vote after Azerbaijan demanded that it sharply cut the number of observers. It marks the first time since Azerbaijan won independence after the 1991 Soviet collapse that the OSCE will not monitor its election. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s government long has faced criticism in the West for showing little tolerance for dissent and holding elections that fall below democratic standards.
Aliyev on Sunday strongly criticized the OSCE for refusing to monitor the balloting, saying its action violated the organization’s ground rules, according a statement issued by the presidential office.
At the same time, Aliyev, in office since succeeding his father in 2003, has firmly allied the Shia Muslim nation with the West, helping secure its energy and security interests and offset Russia’s influence in the strategic Caspian region.
The parliamentary race features 767 candidates competing for seats in the 125-member parliament.