Voters in Azerbaijan are voting in a parliamentary election boycotted by Europe's largest monitoring agency and all of the tightly controlled South Caucasus country's established opposition parties.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) refused to send monitors to the November 1 polls after Baku sought to limit their number to a core team of 131 long- and short-term observers.
That is about one-third the number of monitors that the OSCE -- whose assessment of an election as fair or fraudulent is widely recognized as an evaluation of a country's democratization -- felt was necessary to do its work.
Some other international observers, including from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), will monitor the elections.
The country's 5,547 polling stations opened at 8 a.m. local time and voting will continue until 7 p.m. Some 5 million Azerbaijanis are eligible to vote.
Separately, Azerbaijan's established opposition parties have refused to participate in the elections, though some individual opposition candidates are running for spots in the 125-seat parliament, which is dominated by President Ilham Aliyev's ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP).
The established opposition parties said that the government's policy of offering free television air time to the ruling party, but requiring that all others pay commercial rates, made it unaffordable for them to campaign and reach a wide audience.
The election takes place amid a sustained two-year crackdown on opposition groups, human rights activists, and independent journalists that has decimated Azerbaijani civil society in the past two years.
“Things have really never been worse," said Rebecca Vincent, a former U.S. diplomat who is coordinator of Sports for Rights, an international campaign drawing attention to human rights violations in oil-rich Azerbaijan, which sought to improve its image by holding the first-ever European Games in June.
"This election is taking place with no credible international observers," she notes. "[Established] opposition groups are not participating, you have got a main opposition leader sitting in jail, and you have got the country's top [independent] election monitor sitting in jail."