There are now only a few days left before the Presidential election in Azerbaijan on 9 October. Over the last two weeks the “political space” in the country opened up somewhat, with plurality of views expressed on television and on the streets. The wisdom of the Azerbaijani government in keeping political feelings that it does not like bottled up, and only let it come out during narrow windows ahead of elections, is very doubtful strategically, and unacceptable for many democrats.
The result is the odd campaign that has been witnessed so far. The incumbent President Ilham Aliev is expected to win. He decided not to campaign directly, even if he is seen every day on television “looking presidential”. His party, the New Azerbaijan Party has conducted the campaign on his behalf. It was efficient, sufficiently glitzy, but overall boring.
Of the other nine candidates only one is actually challenging the incumbent. Camil Hasanli was brought late and unexpectedly to the forefront to represent the mainstream opposition. He has so far performed better than expected.
The other eight candidates, many of who have been in front line politics for some time as MPs or leaders of Parties, have been largely in the background. Their criticism of the incumbent has certainly been either non-existent or muted. At least one, Hafiz Haciev, has instead invented himself as the nemesis of the opposition and of Hasanli. He has been described as the Zhirinovski of Azerbaijan. Perhaps not, except that neither Haciyev nor Zhirinovski are loose-cannons, even if this is the image that they harness.
The political space is tightly managed but its parameters are also constantly being challenged. Azerbaijan’s ridiculously young, but amazingly talented, most famous photo-journalist, Mehman Husseynov, was questioned for several hours by the Prosecutor’s Office one week before the election for a political video-parody based on the film “300” that he uploaded on you tube and which was seen by thousands.
“They told me to behave and slow down my pre-election activities on the Internet,” Husseynov told RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service shortly after his release. “I reminded them that I am a journalist. I also noted what President Aliyev claims very often — that the Internet is free in Azerbaijan. My activity is not against the law and I will continue to produce satirical and critical videos.”
And there lies the dilemma. Is Azerbaijan’s democracy a glass half full or a glass half empty? Could this predictable election, with its set-piece characters, that sometimes looked more like actors in a soap-opera than protagonists in a political process, be a defining moment for Azerbaijani politics? On the morning of 10 October Azerbaijani politics cannot be rolled back into the bottle, to wait for the next election. It is time for a serious political dialogue away from the pressures of electioneering, and all sides must find a way of engaging in this in a mature and responsible manner.
source: CEW Staff Team