Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Next Election

Eurasian news outlets are running out of new ways to say that tensions are high in Azerbaijan. A parliamentary election looms in 3 weeks, nearly weekly public demonstrations by the opposition are suppressed with increasing force, and now an exiled opposition leader (who, some say, has robust support within certain government structures) is preparing his re-entry to the country to stand in the November 6 election. The authorities warn that they will arrest him before his heels have cooled on Azeri soil, and opposition activists counter that they will clog the streets of Baku should he be touched.

The tendency to crown opposition leaders with halos must, of course, be avoided. I am no expert of Azeri politics, but if this Rasul Guliyev was the former speaker of parliament who fled the country after a falling-out with former President Aliyev (and the subsequent embezzlement charges that dog any political leader who finds himself on the wrong side of crony ex-communism), well, it's not a stretch to assume banal power struggle rather than noble democratic crusader. An obvious point but worth repeating given what a great story David v. Goliath makes. In fact, Guliyev comes from the same clan as current President Aliyev, and for that reason, has the power to divide the loyalties of Aliyev's power base.

Well, so obviously I'm going. If all goes according to plan I'll be assisting with the exit-polling process rather than observing the voting itself, which will be an interesting new twist for me. And, given the reputation of exit polls following Georgia and Ukraine, as well as the proliferation of competing polls in this election, it should be nice and controversial. Unless I'm mistaken, multiple exit polls were conducted in Ukraine as well (depending on whose propaganda you buy, to counter the US-funded polling data and reinforce official results). Obviously this didn't prevent popular protests, but muddying the waters in this way is still a smart tactic for a threatened government looking to shore up defenses, and we'll see how it plays out in Baku.


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