What is going on in the “Land of fire”?
Azerbaijan is well known for its rich oil resources and problematic democratic institutions. Recent election in the beginning of October fuelled the debate about the future development of this South Caucasus country, which face many challenges concerning its economic and political orientation.
After the controversy, when presidential election results were released on the screenshot of the mobile app the day before the official polls were even open, NGOs together with EU officials drew more attention to democratic issues of Azerbaijan. The leaked results were strongly in favor of long-standing president Ilham Aliyev, giving him 72.7% of all votes. The government’s Central Election Commission later announced, that the results came from testing of the app using data from opinion polls in 2008 and apologized for misunderstanding. Few days after, the former president proved his strong position on official poll results, receiving 84.5% of votes. The strongest opposition party against Aliyev represented former president advisor, Jamil Hasanli, receiving only 5.5% of votes.
For the European Union, the days of polls were closely watched for four days by delegations of Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and European Parliament. Their representatives confirmed that “they have observed a free, fair and transparent electoral process.” However, the European Union highest representatives Catherine Ashton and Štefan Füle warned in their official statement that “significant problems were observed throughout all stages of election day processes” pointing at limitations on the freedoms of expression, assembly and space for expression of the opposition parties.
Ilham Aliyev was elected for the third time since 2003 when he replaced his father Heydar Aliyev, former head of KGB in Azerbaijan that held control over the country for 30 years. Oppression of opposition and media, corruption affairs and controversial statements on Armenia provoked the waves of criticism in domestic as well as in the international sphere. According to Human Rights Watch, the Azerbaijan government continues to intimidate and imprison people and groups who criticized the government. Protests that occurred in the centre of the city after elections were banned and dispersed by the police with excessive use of force. It is noteworthy, that Azerbaijan held more political prisoners than, for instance, Belarus.
The current economical and political situation in the country is strongly affected by rich oil and gas resources hidden in the Caspian sea. It allows Azerbaijan to invest immense amount of money into modern infrastructure and boosting living standards of its citizens. They can also serve as base for balancing interests of two important superpowers, namely EU and Russia. Securing important energy resources from Azerbaijan plays the crucial role in diplomacy of these two international players. Many voice their concern towards the approach of the EU for being weak in its attempts to push on respect for human rights of Azerbaijan representatives. In order to avoid the repetition of Arab Awakening, when the EU looked like supporter of autocrats, it should consider to take stronger and more decisive position towards Azerbaijan.