Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Azerbaijan Adventure, Part 7: Все на Выборы!

Erik and Arzu visited eleven polling stations in three districts of Baku over the course of election day. Erik set out before the sun rose to meet Arzu at the metro stop near their initial destination. They arrived in plenty of time to watch pre-opening preparations, including the official sealing of ballot boxes. That polling station was adorned with the blue, red, and green of Azerbaijan's flag, along with images of Heydar Aliyev. Heydar Aliyev's image was dominant, but not omnipresent (a bust of Aliyev glows behind a voter in a photo below).

As the polls opened, the first voters filed through. Although a young, uniformed man was the first person to cast a ballot, the "prize" for the first voter went to an elderly woman. During the Soviet period, and in some post-Soviet elections that Erik has witnessed, the first voter received a present and the applause of all present. Today's election was no different. The polling station director had a gift not only for the first voter, but for all voters casting their first ballot ever.

The occasion was festive, with polling stations blaring popular Azeri music (see the video above). At the polling station for a fine arts university, students played folk music and dressed in traditional costumes (see the photo at the top).

The Central Electoral Commission has announced a big win for Ilham Aliyev. Preliminary results indicate that turnout was 75.64%, and the president received 89.04% of the vote. Turnout varied across the country; the districts where Arzu and Erik observed had relatively low reported turnout (falling to 107th, 120th, and 122nd place out of 125 districts).

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