>> Was a parliamentary election in Azerbaijan brought forward to Feb. 9 so that Pres. Aliyev could avoid an irksome diary clash?
By James Kilner, editor of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin
FEB. 10 (The Bulletin) – The talk at the start of campaigning five weeks ago was how this parliamentary election in Azerbaijan was going to be different.
Azerbaijan had never held an election judged by international monitors to be free or fair and some analysts said that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev had called this election early to prove a point, to prove that he wanted to, slowly, bring in reforms.
These analysts were wrong.
International monitors said that this election was neither free nor fair. Instead they “expressed serious concerns regarding respect of fundamental rights and freedoms,” and said genuine political competition had been limited.
This is true to form in Azerbaijan where Aliyev, who took over as president from his father in 2003 and has fiddled with the constitution and various elections since to extend his time in office, appears to mock the idea of plurality and free speech.
Other analysts said that Aliyev had called an early election because he wanted to shift deadwood ministers and senior officials out of the government. They were holding the government back from making necessary economic reforms, the theory went.
But this doesn’t stack up either. Aliyev is all-powerful in Azerbaijan and is able to hire and fire ministers without any checks or balances. He doesn’t need an election to be able to pull off wholesale changes to government.
Instead, this election was different for its casual cynicism. Aliyev just wanted to clear a diary clash.
The election had been scheduled for November but Aliyev said at the end of last year that he wanted to bring it forward to Feb. 9. The dates are important here, not the act itself. Aliyev wanted to bring the vote forward because a parliamentary election is an irksome process. It triggers internal dissent, international media attention, criticism from high-minded European election monitors and negative headlines.
For Aliyev, thin-skinned and sensitive, a parliamentary election is nothing but a headache and this particular headache would have turned into a lingering migraine if it had taken place in November, as originally planned. It is around November that Aliyev hopes to capture the attention of the world by turning on direct gas flows to central Europe, across Georgia and Turkey, from the Azerbaijani sector of the Caspian Sea.
Supply Europe with gas is a project that Aliyev has been working towards for years. It will transform Azerbaijan’s economy and place in the world and also reduce Europe’s reliance on Russia for its gas supplies.
These are the headlines Aliyev wants to read in November. By moving the election to February, he can guarantee that they are not undermined by negative headlines generated by a parliamentary election.
>>This comment article was first publish in issue 436 of the weekly Central Asia and South Caucasus Bulletin on Feb. 10. For more info on The Bulletin, go to www.thebulletin.news