October 21, 2008

So Much for Azerbaijani Democracy

Last week Azerbaijan conducted another rigged election just a few short months after several government officials said to my face that this time things would be different.

Advisors to President Ilham Aliyev insisted that observers from the European Union, the Council of Europe, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe would fan out all over the country to monitor the election and even stop the process entirely if they detected fraudulent activity. All this was confirmed by the Israeli ambassador. Yet Aliyev was just “re-elected” with 89 percent of the vote in an election boycotted by the opposition.

Aliyev’s opponents say it was impossible for them to compete, which sounds about right. “The choice of candidates was skimpy,” Sabrina Tavernise wrote last week in the New York Times. “There were six, aside from Mr. Aliyev, but they were political nobodies, and few voters interviewed in Baku on Wednesday could identify any of them.” Imagine how free and fair our own presidential election would be if only Senator Barack Obama or Senator John McCain had name recognition.

It’s no wonder the president’s political opponents are almost completely invisible. Azerbaijan’s television stations are controlled by his government. Eight journalists were arrested for “libel” in the past year. Three are still in jail. Several citizens told me privately that they’re afraid to say anything critical of the government in public. It may make little difference if European election observers ensure ballots are processed and counted fairly in this kind of environment, but the OSCE and the U.S. State Department did see some improvement compared with the last election.

Read the rest in COMMENTARY.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at October 21, 2008 11:06 AM

I admire many Azeris I've met while studying in Turkey, but have never been to this intriguing nation. From your time there, how much is the attempted Armenian Anschluss of Nagorno-Karabakh + Lachin Corridor an effective shield from criticism of the Baku regime's lack of opening up to real reform. Al Jazeera English did a great piece on journalism stifling in Azer a couple months back, really eye opening. My understanding is that Aliyev has been criticized for his past playboy lifestyle when many Azeris were getting killed fighting seperatism. I think the real tragedy here is that the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic had such a rich legacy and the heirs to its founders-- Musavat-- are now totally marginalized. I've read in Yo'av Karny's work about the Lezgin question, which seems to have dissapated. IWPR has been useful in discussing the sometimes restive Talysh minority as well. Does more democracy embolden sub-identities within the larger Azeri nation state or is it the current regime that's more wary of these groups? I wish Azerbaijan the best, it has been a principled and consistent supporter of international law on territorial integrity questions across the board. While I understand why Karabakh Armenians will be hard to re-integrate, she should not give up the struggle to regain such important cultural cities as Shusha, with such importance to the Azeri spirit.

Posted by: JP_Fener Author Profile Page at October 21, 2008 2:39 PM

Micheal a quick question:
with all that oil money, why can't he buy the election honestly :-). I mean spend to buy votes by building roads, hospitals, job creation, pensions, schools etc. etc. It seems very irrational to run the elections this way when he can play the incumbency card like politicians anywhere (see USA) do. He is in power and controls the purse.

Is the opposition that strong or is that insecure?

Opening the democratic process a bit can take so much pressure of them, and they should still win.

Posted by: nameless-fool Author Profile Page at October 21, 2008 8:00 PM
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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