By Abbas Djavadi – Some were hoping that, with these elections, Azerbaijani politics would open up. However, preliminary results show that nothing like that is expected any time soon.
The majority of seats in the new legislature will go to the ruling YAP, a big chunk to the so-called independent candidates or to those from other political parties supporting President Ilham Aliyev, and a few seats to the opposition. There will likely be little change to the distribution of seats in the outgoing parliament.
All leading members of the ruling party, as well as some relatives of the president, have been reelected. However, not a single leader from the main opposition Azadlig (Freedom) bloc seems to have made it into the new parliament.
There have been numerous reports of rigging, pressure, and other electoral abuses from the country’s 5,000-plus polling stations. International observers will talk later today and possibly issue their findings.
It is true that the election was not as farcical as those held in Soviet Azerbaijan, or indeed in today’s Uzbekistan. But the run-up to the poll – especially the last six or so months — with all the intimidation, pressure, and limitations on freedom of assembly, made holding a free and fair election very difficult.
In Azerbaijan’s post-Soviet presidential system, the parliament has only a small role to play. Many have argued it is merely a rubber stamp for the president. It cannot impeach the country’s leader or dismiss a member of the government.
The president, however, has the power to dissolve the parliament and call for new elections. President Aliyev and his late father, the former President Heydar Aliyev, have established a system based on the patronage of a small band of relatives and supporters — all of whom have a disproportionate share in the country’s vast wealth.
One important indicator from yesterday’s poll was the unexpectedly low turnout of 46 percent. Certainly, the rain and cold weather played a part. But the low figure also perhaps reveals that many have little faith in the electoral process — in particular the ability to change the government by going to the polls.
It is also clear from the turnout that the opposition (or at least its current leaders are) clearly lack popular support.
A European observer recently said that Azerbaijan plus democracy would equal Norway, while Azerbaijan minus democracy would end up in another Nigeria. After yesterday’s elections, it is clear Azerbaijan will certainly not develop Scandinavian characteristics in the next few years. But it is still no Nigeria.
Azerbaijan won’t be worse or better off than it was yesterday. Its ruling system will remain the same: an authoritarian regime unwilling to embrace democracy with a corrupt and oil-rich elite reluctant to share its wealth with the population.
(First published Nov 7, 2005, immediately after parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan, on RFE/RL’s website. Amazing similarities with presidential election in 2008 and what is expected as parliamentary election in 2009)