The voters in the oil-rich Caspian Sea nation of Azerbaijan were called to duty to cast ballots in a snap presidential election, six months ahead of schedule. Though Mr. Ilham Aliyev, 56-year-old, had seemed all but certain to extend, by seven years, his rule of the country as a long-serving leader, he faced the opposition of seven candidates, all low-profile figures who barely carried out any campaigning, and whom critics questioned whether they were actual opponents.
Needing to enhance its democratic and transparent image, Azerbaijan invited foreign observers and monitors to watch the voting process, including neighboring countries and the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe. I was honored to be invited to serve as an observer to this election’s process and then make my observation publicly known.
A day before elections I was taken to see two polling stations in the northern city, Guba, and on election day I visited two polling stations in Baku, the capital.
In a marvelous and sunny Spring day, the citizens of Azerbaijan received a day off in order perform their duty.
In my assessment, there was very high attendance in the polling points. Many young people voted, which shows prevailing political atmosphere. Though there was a slight tensed atmosphere in the air, all was calm. If questioning the process, all I saw is effective and well monitored election’s process that leaves no room for aberration or rigged election; rather an effort to build trust in a post-communist system of much corruption. After all, when you are electing the general manager of your country you better take this duty seriously.
Late last evening, at the election headquarters in Baku I heard the closing words of neighboring Georgia observer and members of the national elections commission. They said that with 65 percent of the ballots counted, President Ilham Aliyev had received 86 percent of the vote.
Our of the ballot box
Mr. Aliyev, the Chairman of the New Azerbaijan Party, has led Azerbaijan since 2003, succeeding his father, Heydar Aliyev, who first ruled Azerbaijan as head of the Communist Party and then as a post-Soviet president for the almost three decades.
Like father like son, both have cast themselves as custodians of stability. President Ilham Aliyev has allied Azerbaijan, a majority Shia Muslim nation of almost 10 million, with the West. He has been protecting the country’s energy and its strategic Caspian region security and has been marching his country to much development and growth.
It appears that in this election many Azerbaijanis are in the opinion that Mr. Aliyev is the only candidate capable of steering the country towards economic wellbeing and political stability.
Last year Mr. Aliyev appointed Mehriban Aliyeva, his wife, as first vice president. To me this is rather a questionable democratic move that goes along cementing his family's decades-long rule and nepotism.
All in all, I am in the opinion that Azerbaijan is on a firm path of much democratic development.
The Azerbaijanis have determined their next 7 years’ future. There was no political shake, no one will lose his or her job and life will be back to normal fast.
At the end of the day, in a country that there is high chatter about democracy that may have been questioned, in my humble opinion, the winner in this election is the Azerbaijani people and their republic, a country with its head held high and its feet firmly marching forward to a much better future.