Something funny happened the day before Azerbaijan’s presidential election: The election commission announced the winner. On Tuesday, the smartphone app of the Central Election Commission released the results of Wednesday’s vote, showing President Ilham Aliyev, whose family has been at the helm of this oil-rich Caspian Sea nation for four decades, winning 73 percent of the vote. The commission explained the gaffe by saying that a software developer had released the figures as a “test” at one polling station. It apologized for the “misunderstanding.” Official results on Thursday showed Aliyev winning nearly 85 percent of the vote. His closest challenger, main opposition candidate Jamil Hasanli, trailed with less than 6 percent, followed by eight fringe candidates, according to the commission.
Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called the vote flawed, noting the disproportionate coverage of the president, the limitations on the freedoms of expression and assembly, ballot box stuffing and poor vote counting practices. Hasanli has demanded a new vote.
Aliyev’s victory follows years of what rights groups describe as a relentless campaign to harass government critics. It also reflects his popularity, which has been buoyed by oil riches that have more than tripled Azerbaijan’s economy and filtered down even to its poorest citizens.