Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Free elections and human rights protected in Azerbaijan

In a little less than three months, this country will conduct a presidential election. This is fairly certain. There were rumors that the election might be delayed but those have been emphatically denied by government authorities. The victor in the election is if anything even more certain than the election date of Oct. 15.
While I do not present myself as an expert in Azerbaijani politics, I am a fairly perceptive political observer. As far as I can determine, no candidate who will oppose the incumbent Ilham Aliyev has mounted any sort of campaign. Formally, the nominating process for opponents to the president will continue until late August, according to the Central Election Commission.

Meanwhile, President Aliyev makes full use of his position – grabbing headlines every day with pronouncements about Azerbaijan’s great future, its military prowess and the pressing need to regain properties lost in Nagorno-Karabakh. This is to say nothing of the thousands of huge posters of Ilham and his father Heydar that grace town squares, highways, restaurants and just about every sort of public space available in this country. How is a democratic election even possible when the public is subjected to such a propaganda campaign?

Quirk Global Strategies provides a cynical assessment of the coming elections. “Cynical “is probably not the right word. That implies an attitude that is darker than is justifiable. “Utterly realistic” is probably a better modifier.

This week’s issue of AzerNews – run by a government proxy – devotes page three to a lengthy discourse about the wonderful state of Azerbaijani democracy, the country’s great record on human rights, the wise reforms initiated by President Ilham Aliyev, and the general fact that the president is a great guy! Here’s just an excerpt from the article, written by Elshad Abdullayev:

“Ilham Aliyev, who has proven himself in 1995-2003 as a monumental, patriotic, pragmatic, and initiative personality with high administration skills in all areas of his activity, secured his undisputed victory by gaining the trust and confidence of the required majority.”

For whom is this written, I wonder?

But when I look at the headline of the article - “Governance mechanism promoting protection of human rights and freedoms” – I also think about my own country, and its own hypocritical stance about the protection of human rights. The subject is fresh in my mind, after listening to an excellent program about Guantanamo Bay prison. I really feel that U.S. citizens who do not travel abroad receive much less information about their government. Yes, I have read articles about this prison in the Washington Post and the New York Times, but the television coverage of the subject is largely sanitized. Viewers abroad receive more information about the U.S. government’s brutal treatment of prisoners. And the natural question is – “So, how are you going to lecture us about our government? How can you talk about human rights with a straight face, when your own president effectively has ordered a policy of torture?”

My reply to that question – which I have faced – is that many U.S. citizens oppose the Bush administration. Unfortunately, this opposition has been insufficient to cause the changes that are necessary.