Judging by the experience of past elections in Azerbaijan — particularly the 2003 presidential vote — the crucial date in the upcoming parliamentary elections will not be the November 6 balloting day, but the day after. All opinion surveys and other indicators presage a clear-cut victory for the governing Yeni [New] Azerbaijan Party on the strength of positive economic trends and President Ilham Aliyev’s popularity. At the same time, it would be surprising if irregularities do not occur in a country with such little experience of multi-party elections, and almost 2,000 candidates contesting 125 seats. Some radical opposition groups make no secret of their intentions to exploit the predictable irregularities and provoke violent incidents on November 7 with the excuse that the election was “stolen.” Thus, Azerbaijan is bracing for a threatened repetition of the October 13, 2003, events when Musavat’s presidential candidate Isa Gambar, overwhelmingly defeated at the polls, claimed victory and, along with some marginal allies, incited violent riots in Baku.
The same old radical opposition has donned new, “orange” or “rose” colors this year, claiming to emulate the Georgian and Ukrainian phenomena. However, the protagonists of the Rose and Orange Revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine — and the American and European supporters of those color revolutions — are clearly signaling that they support President Ilham Aliyev’s policies, which guarantee Azerbaijan’s stability and Western orientation.
Thus, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has declared: “We are pleased to see that things are going well in Azerbaijan, that the country is developing as Georgia would wish it to, that it is becoming prosperous. I am glad that Azerbaijan has a leader who is a great hope for his people — the results of his modernization efforts are obvious — and who is very close to us, my personal friend, President Ilham Aliev. I refer to the policies he is carrying out to make Azerbaijan a truly successful country. This is absolutely crucial for us Georgians, because we will have an economically successful and strong neighbor, a strategic ally for dealing with all political and economic issues” (Imedi Television, October 12).
According to self-exiled opposition leader Rasul Guliyev, who attempted unsuccessfully to return to Azerbaijan on October 17, Georgia denied him passage and threatened to arrest him if he set foot on Georgian soil. It was only after this episode that Guliyev chose to protest against Saakashvili’s statement, terming it a “direct interference in Azerbaijan’s internal affairs. Who is he to say this? I will run for president and am sure that I will win,” Guliyev declared (Imedi TV, October 24).
Ukraine’s Orange leaders have carefully withheld any supportive signal to Azerbaijan’s would-be orange revolutionaries. President Viktor Yushchenko, Minister of Foreign Affairs Borys Tarasyuk, and other Ukrainian leaders cultivate close relations with President Aliyev’s government in the interest of diversifying Ukraine’s oil supplies and buttressing regional stability. Ukrainian leaders refused any contact with Guliyev when he made an emergency landing in Ukraine during his abortive attempt to return to Azerbaijan. U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, who served as President George W. Bush’s personal envoy in Kyiv during Ukraine’s December 2004 Orange Revolution, has ruled out its repeat in Baku: “A color revolution is not to be expected in Azerbaijan” (EurasiaNet, October 28).
Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, who had flown to Kyiv in December 2004 to help the Orange victory there, flew to Baku ten months later to signal confidence in Aliyev’s pro-Western policies. The two presidents agreed that Lithuania would continue to support “Azerbaijan’s Euro-Atlantic aspiration, its movement toward the European Union and NATO.” “We will be moving along the same road as we are determined to build a joint future,” Aliyev declared. He accepted Adamkus’ invitation to participate in the summit of Western-oriented countries from the Baltic-Black Sea-Caspian region, an event scheduled to be held in early 2006 in Vilnius (ELTA, AzerTaj, October 13).
These developments around Azerbaijan are analogous to those surrounding Moldova’s March-April 2005 parliamentary and presidential elections. At that time, the possibility of a destabilizing “color revolution” against the Western-oriented President Vladimir Voronin was a matter of serious concern to the Rose and Orange leaders in Georgia and Ukraine and like-minded leaders in other capitals. To demonstrate their support, Yushchenko invited Voronin to Kyiv; and Saakashvili, Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Antanas Valionis, and Romanian President Traian Basescu visited Chisinau in quick succession.
Confidence in Aliyev’s policies and the anticipation of credible elections in Azerbaijan on November 6 rest on three main factors: the president’s consistently pro-Western policies, the opposition leaders’ lack of credibility on their own record, and the evident improvements in the conduct of the electoral campaign, compared to an all-too-recent past.