Alexis de Tocqueville, an astute observer of American politics well over a century and a half ago, remarked that during the election period in the United States:
"As the election draws near, the activity of intrigue and the agitation of the populace increase; the citizens are divided into hostile camps, each of which assumes the name of its favorite candidate; the whole nation glows with feverish excitement; the election is the daily theme of the public papers, the subject of private conversation, the end of every thought and every action, the sole interest of the present. As soon as the choice is determined, this ardor is dispelled; and as a calmer season returns, the current of the State, which had nearly broken its banks, sinks to its usual level: but who can refrain from astonishment at the causes of the storm." (Full text of Democracy in America is available at the Gutenberg Project).
In Azerbaijan, no threatening storm draws near. Aside from a few campaign posters of President Ilham Aliyev displayed in store windows, there is no evidence that the presidential election is less than one week away. The major opposition parties are boycotting the election and the results are entirely predictable: President Aliyev will be re-elected.
Six of the seven candidates were scheduled to take part in a roundtable discussion today, and Erik attended the event with Elchin. Only two of the candidates actually attended, and two sent surrogates. One of the candidates, Fazil Gazanfaroglu (person on the left in the picture on the left), served in government in the early 1990s, and is currently a member of parliament. He criticized the electoral process, but especially the OSCE's report which stated that the opposition candidates have no real policy differences (he noted that his policies differed from others in many ways). Hafiz Hajiyev (picture on the right), the other candidate present, is nicknamed "Fish Hafiz" because his resume includes a stint in the Department of Fish and Wildlife. He also criticized the election process, the media, and NGOs. His comment that democracy aid from the West has probably furnished the homes of opposition elites provoked the most laughter during the fairly somber affair.
The major unanswered question for this election is whether or not voters will come to the polls. Central Electoral Commission efforts to encourage voter turnout have produced a great, kitschy election souvenir. On the left, you see a pen with a young Azeri woman in a tank top and jeans, and the CEC logo. Upon closer inspection, you find that the picture unscrolls into a flag. Since the pen is produced by Azerbaijan's CEC, there is no risk of any salacious images inside. Unfurling the banner reveals the image on the right: "Choose or Lose" Azeri style.
Aside from the roundtable and another research-oriented meeting, Erik also made a presentation to youth activists at the IRI office (see the photo at the top of the post). His talk focused on various election issues, but substantively addressed the upcoming US presidential election. The participants were surprisingly split in their opinions on the US campaign. John McCain is generally the preferred candidate in Azerbaijan because of his policies related to the South Caucasus region and his unwillingness to support resolutions recognizing the Armenian genocide in Turkey during the early part of the 20th century. Many of the attendees indeed favored McCain, but Obama also had many supporters.