Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Azerbaijan: Elections fail to pass muster with observers

Parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan, which tightened President Ilham Aliev's grip on the country, were predictably given a thumbs-down by international monitors hoping to detect greater signs of democracy. In a statement, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) described the conduct of the elections, in which all opposition parties took part, as “not sufficient to constitute meaningful progress in the democratic development of the country”.

The OSCE pointed to the usual problems: lack of media freedom, absence of a free political discourse and deficient candidate registration. Almost one-third of polling stations were rated as “bad” or “very bad”, with ballot stuffing spotted in several instances. Azerbaijan has become used to this kind of criticism from the OSCE, but the country's leadership knows that the reaction from its key western allies, especially the US, will be muted.

After the last parliamentary elections in 2005, which were also criticised by the OSCE, the US expressed initial disappointment but a few months later gave President Aliev the red-carpet treatment in Washington. There appears to be an acceptance in the US that Azerbaijan, at least under its present leadership, will never embrace western-style democracy and that elections will be a sham. The next nationwide vote is scheduled for October 2013, when Aliev will, barring a major surprise, seek a third term in office. Will he exceed the 87 per cent majority he was given in the last presidential elections in 2008? Only time will tell.

In the latest elections, Aliev's Yeni Azerbaijan party increased its majority in the 125-seat parliament from 64 to 71 seats, with the remainder help by smaller parties and so-called independents who are largely loyal to the government.

For more news and expert analysis about the Caspian region, please see Caspian Focus.

© 2010 Menas Associates

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