Observers: Azerbaijan vote falls short
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BAKU, Azerbaijan (CNN) -- Parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan failed to meet international standards for free and fair voting, an observer mission said Monday in an announcement that could embolden opposition parties to take to the streets of this former Soviet republic.
Alcee L. Hastings, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's election observation mission, said Sunday's elections "did not meet a number of OSCE commitments and Council of Europe standards for democratic elections."
According to the official count, President Ilham Aliev's ruling Yeni (New) Azerbaijan Party won a controlling majority in the 125-seat national assembly.
But some opposition groups argue the elections were rigged. They are threatening unauthorized demonstrations.
Leading up to the elections, Azerbaijan made some democratic reforms under heavy international pressure.
One major one: Aliev said polling sites would put ink on voters' fingers to avoid repeat voting. But OSCE officials said that and other important measures were not followed everywhere.
Diplomats also say he is still struggling to stamp his authority on an old guard that does not want to loosen its grip on power and could use heavy-handed tactics against opposition protesters.
Hastings also said restrictions on the freedom of assembly marred the run-up to the elections. The government banned demonstrations in the capitol and sent in police to thwart them.
And, backing a key opposition complaint, Hastings said there were problems in tabulating the votes.
"It pains me to report that progress noted in the pre-election period was undermined by significant deficiencies in the count," Hastings said.
Government officials have rejected the complaints."Basically, this was a free and fair election," sad presidential adviser Elin Suleymanov said Sunday.
Hastings said despite the problems, the elections did show modest improvements from the presidential elections in 2003.
Aliev succeeded his father as president two years ago. Sunday's vote continued the dynastic tradition; besides his wife, his uncle Jalal was also re-elected.
Azerbaijan has a majority Turkish population of about 8 million people, the vast majority of whom are Muslim, according to the CIA World Factbook.
CNN's Ryan Chilcote contributed to this report.
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