When you think of a country with a perfect election law and expertise in putting it into practice, you would not necessarily think of Azerbaijan, the South-Caucasus country rich in hydrocarbons, but, according to international observers, short on democracy. Yet, that is where fellow USSR-surviving countries have gone to seek inspiration for electoral reform.
At a December 16 gathering of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, Russia's Alexei Sergeyev, head of the group's secretariat, declared that Azerbaijan’s election legislation is outstanding and that the world needs more of it. “We want Azerbaijan’s electoral legislation to be applied in other member states of the CIS, too,” he enthused to Trend news agency.
It is not quite clear what exactly has impressed the delegates, who convened in Baku for a seminar on the "Development of Election Legislation in CIS Countries: The Ways of Perfection and Application." Azerbaijan today is still run by the same Aliyev family which was at Azerbaijan's helm when the CIS members were in the Soviet Union. With presidential term limits essentially scrapped, the people of Azerbaijan have been having the Ground Hog Day-style experience for the last decade with one and the same person -- President Ilham Aliyev, who took over the presidency in 2003 after the death of his father, Heydar Aliyev.
Perhaps what impressed Sergeyev is that Azerbaijan’s Aliyev did not even bother to pull the jack-of-cards-style flip that Russia’s power couple, President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev have been doing. Aliyev simply won three elections in a row, according to official data.
Sergeyev seems particularly impressed by the latest, on October 9, during which the CIS' supposedly sharp-eyed observers "saw substantial progress" in the law's "development" -- whatever that means -- and in "the work of the central and local election commissions."
The Central Election Commission, in particular, gained international prominence when a contractor managed to release a smart-phone app before election day that showed what appeared to be the election results.
Sergeyev did not comment on that mishap, but Western observers, however, generally have failed to see the same progress that he does. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported a number of problems with the election law and with the overall election environment that make it difficult to anyone other than Aliyev to make a meaningful attempt at presidency.
But Segeyev and Co don’t seem to notice such flaws. Or perhaps they have a different definition of the perfect election law. If the goal is to find ways of staying in power through or despite elections, Belarus might be the next place to go to learn more tricks of the trade.