Azerbaijan reelects Aliyev in doubtful presidential vote

For a country whose voting hijinks extend even to the Eurovision song contest, it should come as no surprise that Azerbaijan has something less than the best democratic pedigree. azerbaijan

Since the end of the Soviet Union, the Aliyev family has held an iron grip on Azerbaijan’s presidency — and that has not changed today, with the news that Ilham Aliyev won reelection in today’s presidential ‘election,’ less a free vote than an exercise in box-checking for a decidedly undemocratic regime.

Azerbaijani officials apparently even released election results before the voters were even counted.  Classic you, Azerbaijan!

With around 84% of the vote according to initial reports, Aliyev is down from the 87.3% he won in the prior 2008 presidential race (his nearest opponent won just 2.8% five years ago).  That’s despite the fact that a long-fractured Azerbaijani opposition united for the first time in today’s election behind the candidacy of historian Jamil Hasanli, who has won between just 8% and 10% of the vote today, according to initial reports.

First, a little background.  What is Azerbaijan and why should you care?


It’s a former Soviet republic in the Caucasus, and it’s strategically nestled south of Russia, north of Iran and near Turkey.  Oil wealth means that GDP per capita (over $7,000) is double that in neighboring Armenia and Georgia, but also that Aliyev holds a strong grip on the levers of power.

It’s fairly important because it’s a huge supplier of natural gas and oil to European markets through Georgia and Turkey, thereby bypassing Russia.  It’s also the key to any future Caspian Sea gas pipeline, because that pipeline would almost certainly run from Turkmenistan through the Caspian Sea to Baku, the Azerbaijani capital, and the through Armenia, Georgia or Russia to Turkey and then to Europe.  Its oil and its location mean that it hasn’t been subject to the same kind of Western scolding as some other countries.

Aliyev (pictured above) took power in 2003, succeeding his father, and he arranged for the constitution’s amendment to allow for a third term in office (and doubtless, he’ll find a way to a fourth term in 2018 as well).  Heydar Aliyev ruled Azerbaijan with an iron fist well before its independence, all the way back to the 1970s in what was then Soviet Azerbaijan — Aliyev not only survived the transition from the hard-line regime of Leonid Brezhnev to the era of glasnost and perestroika under Mikhail Gorbachev, he survived the transition from Soviet republic to independent state, carrying with him all of the old traditions of corruption under the Soviet regime into the post-independence era.

Aliyev was able to do so largely because of an early 1990s war with Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.  The Caucasus is a rough neighborhood, and Azerbaijan’s oil wealth hasn’t insulated it from some of the conflict that’s plagued the region.  Bilateral relations with Armenia are still frayed and Nagorno-Karabakh, ostensibly part of Azerbaijan, is a de facto self-governing region dominated by ethnic Armenians.  That’s unlikely to change with Aliyev’s reelection, nor was it likely to change with the also-contrested reelection of Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan (Սերժ Սարգսյան) in February 2013. But Azerbaijan, unlike Georgia and Armenia, is a Turkic country that’s 95% Muslim, and it looks as much east to central Asia and south to the Middle East as it does west to the rest of the Caucasus and north to Russia.

Though he founded the Yeni Azərbaycan Partiyası (YAP, New Azerbaijan Party) in 1992 to replace the old Soviet-aligned Azerbaijan Communist Party, Aliyev did nothing to modernize the country’s record on corruption, human rights or democracy.  If anything, those problems have worsened with the oil boom that accompanied post-Soviet foreign investment in the 1990s and 2000s, so you can add to that list of trends a growing and severe income inequality.

Hasanli admitted as much, acknowledging the unlikeliness of a free and fair vote, in a piece for The Guardian on Tuesday, in which he also set forth his agenda for Azerbaijan and an indication that he would continue the fight even after the election against what he sees as an illegitimate presidency:

Since the incumbent, Ilham Aliyev, inherited power from his late father 10 years ago, Azerbaijan has become mired in rampant corruption, and the ruling regime has grown ever more authoritarian and ruthless. Most importantly, the ongoing conflict with Armenia has still not been resolved and Azerbaijani territories remain under occupation….

The oil boom of the past few years has made the Aliyev family and its cronies extremely wealthy and the regime will do its utmost to keep power. Aliyev is running for an unprecedented third term, following the disputed 2009 referendum which removed presidential term limits. I believe this contravenes the Azerbaijani constitution and the European convention on human rights. I have launched a legal challenge and demanded a judicial review. Without a clear, unbiased and unequivocal constitutional court ruling on this matter, Aliyev’s third-term presidency is not legitimate.

Nova Scotia Liberal landslide an omen for federal Canadian politics?


No one will say it’s exactly the blockbuster story of the year, but it’s worth taking note of the landslide victory of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party last night in Atlantic Canada’s most populous province.

Canada Flag Iconnova scotia

Take all the usual caveats — provincial politics is very different from federal politics, and the federal Liberal Party is not the same as the Nova Scotia Liberal Party.  The federal Conservative Party is certainly not the same as the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party.  And the federal New Democratic Party remains in the opposition, while the NDP in Nova Scotia was defending a provincial government.

But the general landscape still mirrors the federal political scene in a way that makes Nova Scotia a better bellwether than other provinces, unlike in Québec, where provincial politics really does revolve around a different axis of policy issues.  Or in the Canadian west, where the Progressive Conservative party in Alberta is the more center-left of the province’s two main parties, the Liberal Party in British Columbia is the center-right option, and where the conservative provincial party is simply the Saskatchewan Party.  The NDP’s 2009 landslide in Nova Scotia in many ways presaged the ‘orange wave’ in the federal 2011 election, wherein the federal NDP far surpassed the Liberals to become Canada’s second-largest political party and the official opposition.

Under leader Stephen McNeil, the Liberals won more support (45.52%) than any party in a Nova Scotian provincial election since 1993, and the Liberals will hold 33 seats in the 51-member Nova Scotia House of Assembly.  That’s even more than the New Democrats, under outgoing premier Darrell Dexter, won (31) in the 2009 election.

Dexter lost his own seat by a slim margin, and the NDP’s caucus will be reduced to just seven seats on 26.90% of the vote.  The Progressive Conservatives, who controlled the provincial government between 1999 and 2009, won just 11 seats on 26.39% of the vote.

But it’s really hard not to see Stephen McNeil’s win as the first electoral evidence that the Liberals are back — and running strong.

McNeil and the Liberals were leading polls to return to government in Nova Scotia long before Justin Trudeau was anointed as the federal Liberal leader and all but prime minister-in-waiting.  But McNeil (pictured above, right, with Trudeau, left) looks like he could be Trudeau’s older brother.

There were other lessons from Halifax for federal Canadian politics, too.  It was somewhat of a relief for pollsters to have forecasted the results more or less accurately after virtually no one foresaw two high-profile recent upset victories — in Alberta in April 2012 and in British Columbia in May 2013.

It’s also a harbinger for Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.  In Alberta, where voters gave the benefit of the doubt to the Progressive Conservatives and reelected premier Alison Redford, the unemployment rate is 5%.  In British Columbia, voters reelected premier Christy Clark and gave the Liberals a fourth consecutive term of government, the unemployment rate is 6.7%.  Nova Scotia, without the rich mineral wealth that has resulted in a boom for western Canada, unemployment is running at 9%.  That’s not a fact that will be lost on Harper, whose Tories have now fallen behind the Trudeau-era Grits in national polls.

The national unemployment rate (7.2%) lies somewhere in between the two extremes.  The Canadian economy is marking equivalent or slightly higher GDP growth than the United States and in 2011, Canadian voters rewarded Stephen Harper for steering Canada through the global financial crisis without the staggering bank failures, the ragged political strife or the soaring unemployment that the United States suffered.  For Harper to win in 2015, he’ll need more voters who feel like Albertans and British Columbians than Nova Scotians.