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Son of Azerbaijan's Outgoing President Wins Election Amid Protests - 2003-10-16

A preliminary vote count gives the son of Azerbaijan's outgoing president a commanding lead in an election the political opposition and some international observers say was undemocratic.

Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission says, with nearly all the votes counted, Ilham Aliyev, the son of current President Haidar Aliev, has secured enough votes to win the presidential race without a runoff.

According to the commission, the younger Aliyev won 80 percent of the vote, while his closest rival gained only 12 percent. Turnout was placed at 71.2 percent.

Just hours after the announcement, thousands of opposition activists took to the streets of Baku to protest the results. Firing tear gas, riot police scattered the crowd.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitored the election, said in a statement Thursday that, while the voting was well administered, the overall election process fell far short of international standards.

The spokesman for a leading rights group, Human Rights Watch, agrees. Peter Bouckaert says problems of vote fraud and manipulation witnessed during the pre-election campaign definitely carried over into voting day.

"On election day, we also noticed a lot of problems," he said. "A lot of independent and opposition monitors at the polling stations were summarily kicked out of them. And there has been a tremendous amount of write-in voters on election day, and some cases of ballot stuffing, which certainly call into question the results of the presidential election yesterday."

Mr. Bouckaert also expressed concern about what Human Rights Watch calls an unprovoked attack by riot police against opposition supporters in Baku, shortly after the polls closed.

The government and the opposition blamed each other for the violence, during which 30 people were reported injured.

Earlier, hundreds of people in Baku complained that they were denied the right to vote because they were never offered registration papers. Others, like this man, told reporters he and his wife had voting papers, but were not on the voting list when they showed up to cast their ballots.

He says he and his wife are law-abiding citizens, who have never changed their apartment or address. Still, he says, "we are not on the [voting] list." He says they waited two hours to cast their votes, without success.

But those who were able to vote placed their ballots in clear, plastic, see-through boxes, rather than in the heavy cardboard paper or wooden boxes frequently used in elections across the former Soviet Union.

Clear boxes for clear elections, was the slogan used by Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission. This election was watched closely in the West as a sign of Azerbaijan's commitment to democracy, after a poor record of transparency in past elections.

The results must still be confirmed by Azerbaijan's Election Commission and the Constitutional Court. But at least two opposition parties have said they consider the election results invalid because of the alleged violations.