WASHINGTON (Reuters)–The United States on Monday backed allegations of widespread irregularities in a weekend referendum on constitutional change in Azerbaijan–where the government secured about 97 percent support for its proposals.
The opposition in Azerbaijan said the referendum was a crude attempt to bring President Heydar Aliyev’s son to power and that the government won by threats–violence and bribery.
US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "Based on what we’ve heard from the US Embassy and other international observers…there appear to have been widespread irregularities–such as the voter list fraud–multiple voting–ballot box stuffing."
"We are very concerned that this referendum on August 24 did very little to advance democratization or to lay the groundwork for presidential elections in the fall of 2003 that can meet international standards."
The United States had asked the Azeri authorities to postpone the referendum to allow more time for debate but the government did not take Washington’s advice.
Boucher said one of the few positive points was that the referendum had stimulated some public debate in Azerbaijan–where Aliyev has been in power for nearly a decade.
"There were nationally televised round tables–and opposition parties and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) had a chance to debate and discuss this. But really we think it’s important that they have a lot of reform in the electoral process and that they really concentrate on having an open and transparent election next year. That’s where our effort is now," he added.
The constitutional changes would leave Ilgam Aliyev well placed to succeed his father–79–if he dies in office.