Johns Hopkins University's Central Asia-Caucasus Institute (CACI)
hosted a forum last week on their significance of Azerbaijan's elections
to regional and international politics. Participants included Elkhan Nuriyev, director of the Center for Strategic Studies in Baku; Elin Suleymanov, the consul-general for Azerbaijan; and Anthony Bowyer, program manager of the Central Asia section of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.
The panel presented an optimistic outlook for the elections, emphasizing their expected fairness and "efficiency." Azerbaijanis will for the first time be able to observe the voting process through webcams
located in 10 percent of the country's election districts. While keeping the ballot secret, this technology will allow Azerbaijanis to see that voters are treated fairly throughout the process (or at least that's the idea).
As for the opposition's boycott of the elections, both Suleymanov and Nuriyev contended that the opposition is afraid of losing another election because of its unpopularity and is simply trying to "save face" and avoid embarrassment. Both argued that the opposition's boycott is a cowardly move and that even though the incumbent President Ilham Aliyev
is at the peak of his popularity, they could still express their views in a fair electoral setting. The panel praised Aliyev as a "responsible adult" on the "Caucasian playground" and emphasized his "success" in reinvigorating Azerbaijan's economy.
Opposition supporters were notably absent from the panel, leading to a rather one-sided discussion. The institute's director, S. Frederick Starr, is known to have a soft spot for authoritarian regimes in the Caucasus and Central Asia (read more about this in a "Harper's" article here
) and this event definitely seemed to reflect that.
-- Julia Kosygina