10th November 2010,
Democratist has been disappointed, but not surprised by the conduct of Azerbaijan’s parliamentary elections last Sunday, 7th November.
The results, and the way in which they were obtained, reflect a long, and now deepening tradition of post-Soviet authoritarian rule there.
As far as we can gauge, all the standard dirty tricks were applied in abundance (media manipulation, voter intimidation, ballot-box stuffing etc.) in what was basically a textbook case of widespread and methodical electoral fraud, with an added dash of nepotism to underscore just how little the Aliyev clan, buoyant on both the financial and geopolitical advantages of Azerbaijan’s vast oil and gas wealth, is concerned to maintain the facade of democracy for either domestic or international purposes.
Opposition parties, predictably, took only two of the 125 legislative seats on offer, while the president’s wife, uncle, and indeed his cousin’s husband were all elected easily.
The main message of these polls therefore, was that the regime feels that its current position is so secure that is no longer answerable to anyone; neither its own citizens, nor foreigners.
But if there are redeeming aspects to this sorry business, they are:
Firstly that, having learned from the fallout from the Azerbaijani Presidential elections in 2008, and despite expectations from many that western organizations such as the OSCE would go easy on the regime, the OSCE Election Observation Mission (EOM) did in fact stand up for the principles it embodies, spoke truth to power, and criticised these elections for the sham they were.
In the words of the head of mission, Audrey Glover at the 8th November press conference, “Regrettably, our observation of the overall process shows that the conditions necessary for a meaningful democratic election were not established. We are particularly concerned about restrictions of fundamental freedoms, media bias, the dominance of public life by one party, and serious violations on election day.”
This is good news for the West’s somewhat tattered reputation among the Azerbaijani opposition, and for the OSCE’s reputation throughout the region.
Secondly, that both the EU (in the form of an admittedly rather weedy statement from Catherine Ashton) and the US, in a separate comment by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley, have fully backed the OSCE’s findings.
And therefore it would seem that the EU and US are less willing to put up with the regime’s shenanigans than might have been the case before the 2008 economic crisis.
But perhaps we should not be so surprised, since lower hydrocarbon prices, and the rapidly increasing diversity of Europe’s gas supplies, which are now staring to include the re-export of formerly US-bound Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) cargoes, may well be mean that the Aliyev regime’s international position is no longer as strong as it was.