BAKU, Azerbaijan — A prominent delegation of international election observers on Thursday sharply criticized Azerbaijan’s presidential election as unfair and rife with fraud, amid aggressive efforts by the Azerbaijani government and its allies to portray the vote as legitimate.
According to official returns, President Ilham Aliyev overwhelmingly won a third five-year term in Wednesday’s election, securing 84.6 percent of the vote with nearly all the counting completed. The best established of nine opposition candidates, Jamil Hasanli, won 5.5 percent.
Hasanli’s campaign, however, alleged that there had been election violations throughout the country, and observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said they had also documented widespread irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and what appeared to be fraudulent counting.
The observers also said the election was deeply unfair from the start, tilted to Aliyev’s advantage because of his domination of state-controlled news media and his use of official efforts to suppress the opposition.
The election was “undermined by limitations on the freedoms of expression, assembly and association that did not guarantee a level playing field for candidates,” the observers wrote in a report that was released at a news conference here Thursday afternoon.
“Continued allegations of candidate and voter intimidation and a restrictive media environment marred the campaign,” the report said. “Significant problems were observed throughout all stages of Election Day processes and underscored the serious nature of the shortcomings.”
But observers from other delegations, including former members of the U.S. House of Representatives, said the voting Wednesday was clean and efficient. Aliyev, thanking voters in a televised statement, called the elections “free and transparent.”
Former Rep. Michael E. McMahon, D-N.Y., called the vote “honest, fair and really efficient.”
“There were much shorter lines than in America, and no hanging chads” — a reference to the disputed ballots in the U.S. presidential race in 2000.
However, the OSCE, which monitors balloting all over the world, said some of the fraud in Azerbaijan was blatant.
“Observers reported clear indications of ballot-box stuffing in 37 polling stations, bypassing critical measures to ensure accountability and deter potential fraud,” the group said.