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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Elections in Azerbaijan with revolution

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Arseny Palievsky) - Dire warnings of a "velvet revolution" in Azerbaijan during the recent parliamentary elections were issued in vain. This is confirmed by a weak response from the opposition leaders. Although they differ in their rating of the elections as democratic, they have not urged their supporters to take to the streets and show disobedience. Sergei Markedonov, an expert at the Institute of Political and Military Analysis, says that "the opposition is not strong enough to stage a revolution. Otherwise we would have seen a replica of events that occurred in Ukraine or Georgia. Such things are never postponed." According to the unanimous view of all experts polled by RIA Novosti, the sweeping victory by the ruling party Yeni Azerbaijan has shown Ilham Aliyev "as a politician who is capable of winning." In the uncertain situation ahead of the ballot, Aliyev managed to prevent a split in his camp. Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies, thinks that "one of the main problems for authorities organizing elections in the post-Soviet space is that in most cases, officials have different interests, and put their eggs in different baskets. This paves the way for 'orange revolutions,' because authorities face the elections when they are weakened on the inside, and many players engage in double game. Aliyev wiped out the opposition within the government by arresting its main members and discrediting them in the eyes of the Azeri population. They were accused of a plot and economic irregularities on a grand scale." The situation suits the West and Russia to a tee. The U.S. wanted Baku to stage competitive and relatively transparent elections. This condition was fulfilled. The opposition, incidentally, has won a good slice of the vote. Besides, it is generally believed that America has changed its mind on the issue of "velvet revolutions." Makarkin says that "the West has corrected its attitude to 'orange revolutions.' A major factor was the situation in Kyrgyzstan where the West wanted to modify the Akayev regime by reinforcing the opposition and creating a counterweight to it, but the outcome was a general collapse and a chaotic situation largely influenced by criminal elements and one which the West still cannot make head or tail of. Such events have no place in Azerbaijan, which is an oil producing country of strategic interest to the U.S. because of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline." Sergei Markedonov agrees. He thinks Moscow and Washington have identical interests in Baku, because "a destabilized Azerbaijan, as it was under Elchibey and during the Popular Front, frightens both Russia and the West. This is one of the reasons why western nations refused to support the opposition. But the authorities should not feel reassured. In Azeri society there are serious underlying opposition currents and there is the risk of the opposition becoming overtly Islamic if problems facing society and the state are not solved." Why is the present scenario acceptable to Russia? Aliyev, unlike the uniformly anti-Russian opposition, will do a balancing act with the interests of Moscow, Washington and Tehran. And although there is nothing to suggest Aliyev's policy will be pro-Russian, some important Russian interests will be respected: Baku will not deploy American military facilities on its territory, because this will erode its relations with two neighbors at once - Russia and Iran, and secular authorities will oppose the spread of radical Islam and international terrorism.

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