Who’s going? Who’s staying? Who’s coming?

Although attention is currently focused on the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Georgia on 1 October, discussions in international circles are increasingly focussed on the three Presidential elections in the South Caucasus, scheduled to be held in 2013. Armenia will elect its President in February and Azerbaijani in October. The Georgian Presidential election is also due next year.

The three countries, different as they are, have one thing in common in their modern political history. No President has ever left office because he was defeated in an election. They were either forced out or died in office. In Armenia in 2008 the incumbent, Robert Kocharian left office at the end of his two terms. The constitution in Armenia and Georgia allows a person to hold office for only two terms. It was the same in Azerbaijan, but the constitution was changed after the last election, thus enabling the current President Ilham Aliev to run for a third term. As things stand therefore there should be at least one change of president next year, in Georgia, since the current President has already had two terms in office.

President Mikheil Saakashvili has kept his plans for 2013 to himself. This has resulted in speculation that either the constitution will be changed in the last moment to enable him to run again, or that there will be a “Putin” scenario, whereby Saakashvili will become Prime Minister for one term and then return to the presidency after that. In any case Saakashvili does not look like a person about to retire from politics. His front line role in the current parliamentary election campaign reenforces speculation that the opaque collegiate leadership, made up of a handful of senior officials and that holds ultimate power in today’s Georgia, is waiting for the election result before taking a final decision.

In both Armenia and Azerbaijan the incumbents will run again, and there is as yet not even a clear idea of who will challenge them, let alone the chances of a successful challenge. In all this the international community, and most of all the European Union with all its declared interests and strategies for the region, remains a distant observer. Many analysts think that much will depend on how the international community deals with the forthcoming Georgian parliamentary elections. A firm support for the democratic process and a robust response in case of gross election violations will set the tone for next year. A weak and inadequate response will do so too. What happens in Georgia on 1 October, and Europe’s reaction to it, will have implications in the region and beyond.

Prepared by CEW Editorial Team.