Thursday, November 03, 2005

Sunday in Baku

The Importance of Azerbaijan’s Parliamentary Elections - Council on Foreign Relations

On Sunday, the voters of Azerbaijan are going to the polls to elect the 125 members of their new Parliament.

It will be a very closely watched election. Not only has Azerbaijan acquired new strategic significance in the view of its oil wealth, but the election is also closely watched to see if last year's trend towards more of democracy and freedom in the ex-Soviet republics will continue.

This month it is two years since the so called Rose Revolution in nearby Georgia.

The signs are not particularly good. There are 2000 candidates for the 125 seats, but the opposition is hardly coherent, and the regime has been increasingly heavy-handed against different forms of dissent lately.

Azerbaijan is a country with important links to other parts of the region.

It is close to Turkey, with the difference between the Azeri and the Turkish language being marginal, and Turkish TV widely available in the country. It's also linked to Iran, with more Azeris living there across the border than in Azerbaijan itself.

Then there are of course the traditional strong links with Russia. Baku was the oil capital even of Tsarist Russia, then much dominated by the Nobel firm headquartered in St Petersburg.

And more recently the oil links with the outside world have been diversified, with key investments coming in from the US, Britain and Norway. And - needless to say - strong Russian oil interests as well.

So, it's worth watching Baku on Sunday.