Tuesday, October 14, 2008

On the eve of the election

This town is crawling with election observers. It is absurd. I'm not sure how many total observers there are. Certainly hundreds. I don't think it's silly to have election observers, per se, but it's silly to pretend that the observers grant this election more credibility. How can this election be credible when the main opposition groups are boycotting the election? Why are they boycotting the election? Because they feel that they are systematically repressed. (Some argue that the opposition is ineffectual and disorganized too, and merely are looking for an excuse so that this fact isn't revealed.). The opposition is not repressed in a Stalinist manner. They are not being sent to gulags, although certainly there have been cases of physical abuse of opposition figures and the media. The opposition is repressed politically. The competition is not fair in any sense, and everyone knows this. The Azerbaijani people are not fools.

So, tomorrow thousands of people will go to the polls, to participate in some sort of civic exercise. It's not really a democratic exercise. It's more like going to a parade, a way to express patriotism by voting support for the government. And after the president has won re-election, what then?

That is the more important question. Price hikes? More concerted repression of dissent? These are distinct possibilities. But defeat at the polls for the president is completely impossible.

After the election, the hundreds of election observers will write their reports. The observers might see a few offenses, but I doubt that any shenanigans are necessary to ensure that the right result is obtained at the polls. Democracy is not about the conduct of any one election. Free elections are the result of months of democratic behavior that precede the elections. And in Azerbaijan, the political and social environment just doesn't allow an open consideration of alternatives in this election.