Editorial Comment: All for Georgians to lose!

The 27 October presidential election should bring political closure to twenty-five years of political upheaval, and can give Georgia what it aspires for. But there are some final tests yet.

Compared to previous elections in Georgia, the process of selecting a new president for the country on 27 October has proceeded without major problems. One week before the polls the main threat to the free expression of the will of the Georgian people seems to be apathy, rather than election fraud or manipulation.

Georgia’s political journey over the last twenty-five years has been tumultuous. The events on 9 April 1989, when Soviet OMON forces killed peaceful civilians on Rustaveli Avenue broke the unwritten accord between the Georgians and the Soviet leadership which had seen Georgia getting the best possible deal out of the Soviet system in return for political acquiescence. Ever since, Georgian politics has been a roller coaster of upheavals. Euphoria and disappointment alternated in regular short cycles, with wars, rebellion, revolution and repression added in for good measure. Yet this era of Georgian politics seems now to be coming to a close.

Georgia has had three presidents since it eventually regained its independence in December 1991 when the Soviet Union unceremoniously disintegrated. Most Georgians these days find it difficult to talk highly of any of them. More…

After problematic election, Azerbaijan remains stuck in a twilight zone between democracy and authoritarianism.

Commentary.

The Presidential election held in Azerbaijan on 9 October, and the political situation that emerges as a result of it, can be summed up in one word: problematic. That this election failed in some respects from meeting widely accepted international standards is clear to those who want to make a dispassionate assessment. Some problems observed in all elections that have taken place in Azerbaijan in the last decade have persisted, and the leadership of the Central Elections Commission, which has remained largely unchanged for the whole period, seems unwilling or unable to correct them.

Context, process and outcome.

The context in which the election was held was far from ideal. The reports of organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, the terse but clear concerns expressed by the leadership of the European Union, and the concerns of big sections of the international media, may have been dismissed lightly by the Azerbaijani authorities, but in their totality they provide a negative picture of the context in which the election was held that is serious enough to impact the evaluation of the event on 9 October itself. There was some improvement in the situation in the three week run up to the election which saw the opposition allowed to voice its opinions on national television and to mobilise in the streets.

There were also other issues worth noting, for example the odd way in which the incumbent Ilham Aliev decided to run his campaign, and the late but effective way in which the opposition managed to rally around the candidacy of Camil Hasanly. Hasanly himself gave his all, and was more effective than many had thought he would be. The opposition however failed to mobilise a critical mass for its activities. Part of this was due to the opposition’s own limitations, and part due to the very clear dangers faced by those who publicly associate themselves with the opposition. There is however another factor at play which the opposition with its rhetoric seems to have failed to understand: most Azerbaijanis, regardless of whether they like Aliev or not, do not want to go back to the chaos of the 1990s. Whilst the government cleverly plays on this feeling, the opposition seems to be oblivious to its importance.

Shortcomings in the election process itself were noted, and will no doubt be the subject of reporting by the more credible election monitoring organisations. The attitude of the CEC to be meticulous where its suits it, and brush aside serious shortcomings when it does not, contributes to the undermining of trust in the process.

The provisional result of the election gives the incumbent President 84.73% of the vote with a 72.31% voter turnout. Given the context and the process this result, which in any normal election context would be considered exaggerated, may not be the most contentious part of the outcome. A victory for Ilham Aliev with a wide margin was anticipated and predicted. The pattern of what happened on election-day and in the counting process in this, as in previous elections in Azerbaijan, was chequered.

A twilight zone that has become a comfort zone.

The result of all this is an unsatisfactory outcome. The Azerbaijani authorities have over the last decade positioned themselves in a twilight zone between democracy and authoritarianism. This election proves what some had been worrying about for some time, that this twilight zone has now become the authorities comfort zone. However this election has in many ways proven that this situation is not sustainable. President Aliev will now have to decide very soon in which direction he wants to take his country. His speech on election night gives us little indication of what his choice will be. But once the dust of the election campaign has settled down, there will be important and crucial decisions to make that will define his place in Azerbaijani history.

Source: CEW editorial team

ODIHR publishes its second interim report on Azerbaijani elections

OSCE_ODIHR_logo_Album_110612On 1 October the ODIHR Election Observation Mission for the forthcoming presidential election in Azerbaijan published its second interim report which covers the period from 12-26 September 2013.

The report notes that “the official campaign began on 16 September and while it has been generally calm, it has been marred by some reported incidents of intimidation of family members of political figures. To date, the campaign has lacked substantive debate and has focused on personality rather than concrete political platforms. More…

On the morning of 10 October Azerbaijani politics cannot be rolled back into the bottle, to wait for the next election.

Azerbaijan’s ridiculously young, but amazingly talented, most famous photojournalist, Mehman Husseynov.

Testing the political space: Azerbaijan’s ridiculously young, but
amazingly talented, most famous photojournalist,
Mehman Husseynov.

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. More…

Aliev addresses issue of corruption in a speech a few days before election. “Transparency, honesty and truth must become a way of life.”

President Aliev's election campaign projects him as a visionary leader.

President Aliev’s election campaign projects him as a visionary leader.

President Ilham Aliev has addressed the issue of corruption in Azerbaijan in a tough speech a few days before presidential elections. Corruption has been one of the issues raised by the opposition candidate Camil Hasanli during his television broadcasts as part of the election campaign. Although Aliev is not participating himself in the election debates he has made numerous speeches, usually whilst opening new government facilities.

One such event happened on 30 September  when Aliev opened the new offices of the Anti corruption unit within the prosecutors’ office and this gave him the opportunity to address the issue of corruption head-on.

The following is an extract of his speech: More…

Camil Hasanli: the unlikely “man on the white horse”.

A cartoon of Camil Hassanli slaying a hydra-headed monster representing the other presidential candidates that have ganged up against him has caught the imagination of people.

A cartoon of Camil Hassanli slaying a hydra-headed monster representing the other presidential candidates that have ganged up against him has caught the imagination of people.

In Azerbaijan’s tightly managed political and media environment it is not often that a person emerges from the shadows to steal the limelight and catch the imagination of people. Yet this is what a University History professor in his seventies has been able to do over the last weeks since he unexpectedly was chosen as a last minute substitute to represent the opposition “National Council of Democratic Forces” in the Presidential elections that are due in a few days time.

Camil Hasanli had never been in front-line politics before, but had within academic and intellectual circles a reputation as an honest and intellectual person of integrity. Few thought that he had the attributes necessary for the rough and tumble of Azerbaijani politics. Yet over a short period of time, and thanks mainly to a window of opportunity provided by the election campaign which gave him a few minutes of exposure on national television, Hasanli grew in stature by the minute. It was not only his own tough and uncompromising statements in which he lambasted the government for incompetence and corruption that earned him accolades, but also the fact that most of the other candidates in the election preferred to gang up against him. With a cool panache Hasanli saw them off one by one. More…