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Voice of America
16 October
US Cites Improvement in Azerbaijan Election
By David Gollust

The United States Thursday joined European monitors in citing improvement in the conduct of Azerbaijan's presidential election, despite the huge victory margin of President Ilham Aliyev. Official figures give the incumbent leader 89 percent of the vote. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials are giving Azerbaijan credit for some improvement in the conduct of the election in a country that has had only two leaders - President Aliyev and his late father - since it became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

But in line with criticism by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe - the OSCE - which monitored Wednesday's vote, the State Department said there is work to be done before the country's election process fully meets international standards.

Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission says with 70 percent of the districts tallied, President Aliyev had 89 percent of the vote with the rest scattered among six other candidates.

However the country's five main opposition parties boycotted the election, saying they were not allowed to campaign freely and pointing to the government's record of curbing the media and arresting opposition figures.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack congratulated the Azerbaijani people, as opposed to President Aliyev, for the election.

"We congratulate the Azerbaijan people on having this election and instituting some improvements in the way this election occurred, over previous elections," he said. "The OSCE is in the process of issuing a number of reports about the election. So as their assessment is in fact ongoing, I am just going to speak very generally about it, that it was an improvement. There's still work to be done."

OSCE officials say authorities in the country had tried to create fair conditions for the election and that voting was efficient.

But they said there were election-day shortcomings, especially in the vote-count and tabulation, and that the process overall did not reflect all the principles of a pluralistic democratic election.

Russia, which has frequently differed with the OSCE on its election assessments, did extend President Aliyev personal congratulations.

The United States has sought to cultivate close ties with the Caspian state, which has large oil and gas resources and sits astride key transit routes for Central Asian energy supplies.

It has prodded the Aliyev government on human rights issues, while also working diplomatically to try to resolve Azerbaijan's long-running dispute with Armenia over the ethnic-Armenian Azeri enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte visited Azerbaijan earlier this month for talks on those issues and the spillover effects of Russian intervention in neighboring Georgia in August.

Vice President Dick Cheney also visited Azerbaijan in September.