Author: Namig MAYILOV
Most think tanks and sociological services predicted a landslide victory of the incumbent president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, even before the presidential elections. There were many reasons including political stability, economic development, social well-being, Azerbaijan's authority in the region, its considerable role in world politics and a number of other factors that predetermine Ilham Aliyev's high rating.
“Acting President Ilham Aliyev enjoys considerable support and has no real opposition,” noted the analysts of the Russian company Sberbank Investment Research in their review “Azerbaijan: Return to Baku”. The local monitoring centre, Ray, predicted 83.5 % of votes in favour of I. Aliyev.
In total, eight candidates were running for the main state post of Azerbaijan on April 11 including the incumbent president Ilham Aliyev nominated by the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (Yeni Azərbaycan). His rivals were Araz Alizadeh, leader of the Social Democratic Party; Gudrat Hasanguliyev, Chairman of the United Popular Front of Azerbaijan; Faraj Guliyev, leader of the National Revival Movement; Hafiz Hajiyev, Chairman of the Modern Musavat Party; Sardar Mammadov, Chairman of the Democratic Party; Razi Nurullaev, nominated by the Initiative Frontmen Group, and Zahid Oruj, self-nominated.
According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), the turnout of voters was 74.30%. In fact, this is a traditional indicator for presidential elections in Azerbaijan. High voter turnout at presidential elections is a natural phenomenon for a presidential republic, since it is the president who determines the agenda for the development of the country in the near future. According to the amendments made to the Constitution of Azerbaijan in autumn 2016, president’s term in the office was extended from five to seven years.
According to initial results of elections announced by the CEC, President Aliyev received 86.03% of the votes. Each of the rest of the candidates had only 1-3% of the votes.
Official results were also confirmed by the results of exit polls conducted by three different organisations. So, according to the monitoring centre Ray, Ilham Aliyev had 84.49% of the votes, while according to the Els Research Centre, 82.71% of voters supported the acting head of state. In turn, exit polls of the French organisation Opinion Way and the Independent Centre for Consultation and Assistance For Civil Society recorded 86.53% of votes in favour of the candidate from the ruling YAP party.
The first assessments by international observers became available immediately after the voting. Sixty different organisations, over 58 thousand local and about 900 international observers from 59 countries of the world observed the election process.
“I would like to note three main points that truly surprised me. First, we observed a very pleasant and peaceful atmosphere during the elections. They were completely different from those in European countries. Secondly, we observed a very high voter turnout. The voters were standing in queues waiting for their turn, which indicates a great activity of voters unlike in European countries. Finally, I would note a very active participation of women in elections as members of both commissions and observation groups,” said a Polish Senator Jerzy Wcisła in his interview with R+.
He also noted that the population of Azerbaijan witnesses economic development, stability and, most importantly, social security of the country. “The apartments and utilities here are cheap; you do not have big problems with employment. Apparently, all these factors are a source of aspiration for the population not to worry about its future,” commented the Polish senator on the choice of Azerbaijani voters.
“I would like to congratulate you on the success of elections. They were conducted in a transparent, orderly, and democratic manner. It was nice to see the introduction of a tool to prevent duplicate votes. As soon as a voting citizen left the polling station, a special spray was sprayed onto his fingers, which could later be identified. This is a very innovative step, which I have not seen before, and it is very effective. I visited several polling stations and asked many questions. I have witnessed personally that everything was organized very well. The ballot boxes were correctly sealed. I paid great attention to details and I can say that everything was in accordance with democratic standards,” said another international observer, Italian Senator Antonio Razzi, in his interview.
“We came to observe the presidential elections in Azerbaijan. I did not observe any pressure or violation. In France and in a number of other countries, the voting is usually organised at schools. I also noticed a high turnout of voters at polling stations. Everything goes very well,” said Pradoura Guillaume André Gilbert, Parliamentary Attaché of France to the European Parliament.
Wrapping up all the statements, the absolute majority of observers acknowledged that both the course and outcome of elections were in line with legal and democratic norms and most importantly – respect the will of Azerbaijani voters.
Only OSCE, OSCE PA and PACE missions criticized the course of elections in their characteristic mentor tone. Even the spirit of the joint statement clearly demonstrated that it was a biased evaluation carefully prepared and agreed. It was no coincidence that the representatives of the missions were summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, which expressed its strong protest.
Either way, the streets and squares of Azerbaijan were crowded with supporters of Ilham Aliyev on the elections day, who celebrated the landslide victory of their candidate. Ilham Aliyev addressed the voters, thanked them for their support, and outlined his government’s policy for the next presidential term.
“Yesterday the people of Azerbaijan voted for our policy again. Once again, you voted for stability, development, progress, and independent policy. Thanks to its independent policy, Azerbaijan reached the highest peaks. Our international authority is growing every day. Azerbaijan deserves great respect on a global scale,” said the elected president. He noted that no external force can force Azerbaijan to turn off the path of independence. This statement can be regarded as a message to international forces trying to talk to Baku in the language of pressure or double standards.
Ilham Aliyev's address to the youth was of special significance: “I can see many young people here. The future of our country is in your hands. We are proud of our youth. The young generation will manage Azerbaijan in the future in full compliance with our policy of independence.” In fact, the president clearly mentioned that he would continue relying on youth in state affairs.
In general, Ilham Aliyev's re-election means continuity of Baku's policy of internal stability and economic growth, good-neighbourly relations and regional development. These are the main incentives that influenced the choice of Azerbaijani voters and suit all the regional countries.
As expected, the presidents of Turkey and Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, as well as the leaders of Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Uzbekistan were the first to congratulate Ilham Aliyev on his success during the elections and he continues to receive congratulatory messages as of writing this issue.
All the messages explicitly show that despite its small footprint on the global political map, Azerbaijan plays an instrumental role in regional and world politics.
Apparently, only Armenia is not happy with the electoral victory of Ilham Aliyev. Yerevan is fully aware that the Azerbaijani leader will continue the policy of regional isolation and economic strangulation of Armenia until it leaves the occupied lands of Azerbaijan. Yerevan also knows the power of Azerbaijani army, which, according to international rankings, is one of the 50 most equipped and efficient armies in the world. This success was achieved during the rule of Ilham Aliyev and his re-election obviously worries our aggressive neighbour.
So, the voters have made their choice. It is symbolic that as a founder of the first democracy in the Muslim Orient, Azerbaijani voter made his choice on the eve of the 100th anniversary of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. This doubles the responsibility of authorities, which, according to Ilham Aliyev, have to do everything “to make sure that Azerbaijan always remains an independent state both formally and substantially”.
“The elections were held in a democratic and transparent manner. Everything was all right. The polling stations looked as they should. International observers were provided with free access to citizens. In general, I have no comments. Of course, there is always something in the election process that could be improved but the drawbacks that I have noticed were certainly not critical and did not affect the democratic election process. Moreover, I would be happy if some practices of your election process are applied in Bulgaria too. The same is true for counting the votes - everything was absolutely transparent.”
Alexander SIMOV, Member of Parliament (Bulgaria)
“As a citizen of Italy, a country with established traditions of democratic elections, I can say that my participation in the presidential elections in Azerbaijan as an observer was a nice experience for me. I can say that the elections were held in compliance with all national and international norms and regulations. We did not observe any violation. In general, the organization of elections was at a very high level. Also a high level of security was provided during the elections. Voters were eager to contribute to the election of their president.”
Luigi NEVOLA, Member of Parliament, South Tyrol (Italy)
“Elections in Azerbaijan were organized at professional level. You use a variety of special methods to ensure transparency like special sprays to mark the voters. This is a very good method. Every detail was taken into account. There were also many local observers. Observers of all candidates monitored the electoral process very seriously. Equal conditions for competition were created. We visited the polling stations in Baku and the suburbs. I had wonderful impressions. These elections were in full compliance with international standards, and I see no reason to complain.”
Stefan KEUTER, Member of Parliament, Alternative for Germany (Germany)