Azeri authorities launched a major crackdown on political opponents and critical journalists last month, after observers and opposition parties denounced major irregularities in the presidential elections of October 15. Many of those arrested were held during spontaneous demonstrations in Baku on October 15 and 16, which degenerated into clashes with police as authorities tried to break them up. Azer Garacheni, editor of the Avropa newspaper, was also arrested, as were several other journalists. Azeri authorities later said that all journalists had been freed by October 22.
The official result of the election gave Ilham Aliyev (right) -- son of the octogenarian current president, Haider Aliyev-- 76.84 percent of the vote, and so a clear victory over his opponents. However, Isa Qambar, chairman of the Musavat party, who was shown as having come second to Aliyev with 12.8 percent of the vote, claimed victory, saying that he had actually received 60 percent. Exit polls taken by the independent political group ADAM gave Qambar 46.2 percent of the vote, followed by Aliyev (24.1 percent), independent candidate Lala Shovket Gadjieva (11.4 percent) and Etibar Mammedov of the Azerbijan National Independence Party (11 percent).
The vote counting apart, opposition groups also complained of massive political irregularities in the organization and run-up to the elections. It is generally agreed that since the announcement of the elections last year, the Azeri government has taken systematic steps to ensure that Ilham Aliyev succeeds his father as president.
Thus the Azeri authorities passed a new election law that automatically gave the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP) and its allies the two-thirds majority on all election commissions required to take decisions. The result was that over half of all those who tried to put themselves forward as candidates for any level of election were barred from doing so. Once the campaign got underway, police and other government groups used threats and violence to disrupt opposition campaigning, particularly by Qambar and Mammedov, perceived as the greatest threats to a first-round win for Ilham Aliyev.
Despite criticising the irregularities and violence, Western governments and international bodies such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) accepted the results. They are clearly as happy to work with Aliyev Jr. as they were with his father.