The official vote count and exit polls gave the ruling party the lead in Azerbaijan's parliamentary election Monday, but rights groups and monitors reported irregularities and the opposition vowed to fight to overturn what it called fraudulent results.
With votes from nearly 90 percent of the precincts counted, candidates from the ruling New Azerbaijan Party were leading in 64 races, with independents - who could include ruling party loyalists - ahead in 41 races and opposition candidates in eight, according to the Central Election Commission.
An exit poll conducted by the Mitofsky, Edison Media and CESSI organizations showed candidates of the ruling party winning 30 of the 125 seats and "leading-too close to call," in 26 other races. It was unclear who sponsored the exit poll, which opposition figures alleged was being conducted under government auspices.
Hundreds of foreign observers who fanned out across the country to watch the vote were also following the count.
The opposition had said it would wait until after their statements to make its own assessment of the election's fairness, and the streets of Baku were quiet Monday morning following a tense campaign that featured nearly weekly opposition rallies that were often forcibly broken up by police.
But on Sunday night, Ali Kerimli, one of three main opposition leaders, said the voting was "clearly falsified."
"These elections could not reflect the will of the Azerbaijani people," he said.
Kerimli related reports of opposition members on local election commissions being detained. The deputy chairman of the Musavat party, Vurgun Eyub, said seven opposition party officials had been detained in a polling place outside Baku and that opposition observers had been thrown out of 23 stations just before polls closed.
Among complaints was ballot-box stuffing, and the Central Election Commission was looking into reports that one person was discovered entering a polling place with 15 ballots already marked.
Center for Election Monitoring representative Anar Mammadli said officials at some polling places were openly supporting specific candidates.
The ruling party's executive secretary, Ali Akhmadov, pronounced the elections "transparent, just and democratic." He said that whatever violations were recorded were not enough to affect the results.
The uneven campaign saw some opposition rallies banned and its activists beaten and detained, and many candidates withdrew from the race.
The election pitted President Ilham Aliev's New Azerbaijan Party against the Azadliq (Freedom) coalition, the New Policy bloc of technocrats, and an array of smaller parties and independent candidates.
Less than three weeks before the vote, Aliev's government announced the discovery of an alleged coup plot led by Rasul Guliyev, an Azadliq leader in exile. Several government ministers and other high-ranking officials were jailed, the AP reports.
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