Friday, September 23, 2005
Azerbaijan takes a lesson from Andijan
As campaigning for the 6 November parliamentary elections gets under way, the Azerbaijani authorities are directing their efforts toward ensuring that the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, together with ostensibly independent but loyal candidates, retains control of the new parliament. While such efforts are not unexpected in light of previous tainted elections, the Azerbaijani government's blatant disregard for the international community's insistence on electoral fairness and transparency is surprising. Moreover, this apparent disdain for world public opinion is at odds with -- and signals a retreat from -- initial moves apparently aimed at reversing the country's record of election "illegalities."
One factor driving the Azerbaijani government's disregard for international reaction to its tactics over the past six weeks may be its inferences from Western -- specifically the U.S. -- response to two other developments.
The first test case for Azerbaijan was what Baku perceived to be the lukewarm Western reaction to the May unrest in Uzbekistan. Not only did Uzbek President Islam Karimov's bloody response to the violent events in the southeastern town of Andijon, his government's dubious definition of the events as an uprising by Islamic extremists, and the repressive handling of the victims and witnesses not result in international sanctions, most importantly, the Uzbek case was a direct and blatant challenge to U.S. credibility.
The second key development was Washington's praise for Egypt's presidential election earlier this month. That praise may have been construed in Baku as signaling that the United States would be content with even the most modest progress toward greater democracy.
Meanwhile, the Polish ambassador to Azerbaijan has dismissed rumours that the Polish government has been planning a coup with opposition members.