25th Oct 2016

EU ponders reaction to Azerbaijan's 'appgate'

  • Aliyev (l) and Barroso in Brussels earlier this year (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

French senators have congratulated Azerbaijan's President on a sweeping election victory, but they could have done it one day before the vote.

The French politicians, Nathalie Goulet, Mohamed Soilihi and Jean-Claude Peroni - three of dozens of international monitors in the country - were quoted by Azerbaijan state press on Thursday (10 October) as saying Wednesday's poll was free and fair.

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"I did not see any difference in the election processes of our countries," France's Soilihi noted.

The Central Election Commission (CEC) said that with 92 percent of the vote counted, the incumbent, Ilham Aliyev, won by 85 percent, while the top opposition candidate, Jamil Hasanli, got 5 percent.

"Our model of national and religious tolerance is an example for all other nations … We will continue democratic reforms and the process of building a modern state," Aliyev told national TV.

For its part, the EU foreign service is waiting for the verdict of the Vienna-based watchdog, the OSCE, due at noon Brussels time on Thursday, before speaking out.

But a comical mistake earlier on Tuesday by the CEC indicates the regime pre-cooked the result.

The CEC contracted a firm called Happy Baku to create a phone app to publish the outcome.

But when the app became available for download one day ahead of the vote, it already contained a set of results: Aliyev 73 percent and Hasanli 7 percent.

Activists based in Germany, which operate the opposition cable channel Meydan TV, published screen-grabs of the data.

The news quickly acquired the tag "appgate" and reached EU officials in Brussels. It also made headlines on the British state broadcaster, the BBC, on Swedish TV and in the US daily, the Washington Post.

The app equally quickly went offline. The Happy Baku chief also deleted his Facebook page, Twitter account and LinkedIn page.

The CEC on Wednesday blamed Happy Baku for the "crash."

It added that the "test" had used data from "previous elections" and it said sorry for creating "justified confusion."

Meydan TV founder, Emin Milli, is calling the CEC's bluff, however.

He told EUobserver on Thursday from Germany the glitch amounts to "revelation of an intent to perpetrate major fraud."

He said: "Their claim they were using data from previous elections doesn't stand up, because Aliyev did not get 73 percent and Hasanli was not a candidate the last time around."

He added he expects the official tally to "revise" the figures so they do not match the app.

But in the meantime, the error has put EU diplomats in a pickle.

On the one hand, they recently criticised Aliyev for a pre-election crackdown on civil liberties. But on the other hand, they are wary of upsetting him because he is about to decide what percentage of a €40 billion gas pipeline to award to European firms.

On the crackdown, Milli added that the Baku-based journalist who alerted him to appgate does not want his name published in case he joins the other political prisoners in Aliyev's jails.

He said he also fears for the safety of the Happy Baku director.

He noted he does not expect much of a reaction from the OSCE, the EU or the US, however: "Based on past elections, they will somehow massage the situation because the oil and gas interests here are so big."

Azerbaijan's embassy to the EU was not immediately available to comment.

But its EU ambassador, Fuad Iskandarov, told EUobserver in an interview back in September he already had an inkling of who is best placed to win.

"It's obvious who has the more credibility and capacity [to lead the country]," he said, alluding to Aliyev.

"In the case of Azerbaijan, you [the EU] have very hard, but predictable partners," he also said.

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