Smart-looking parts of the capital of Azerbaijan show the oil wealth: modern buildings next to proud historical ones, luxury cars and hotels and boutiques. Around 70 percent of the country’s income is fossil fuel-based. In the run-up to the presidential elections, this conspicuous spending has clearly influenced how people link the man who spent on this with themselves.
One Baku resident told a journalist: “I am a Russian-speaker and feel comfortable and happy in my home city. And of course I will vote for the person who has made this happen.”
A man said: “We will be voting for a good life, for our president, because we see the success of Azerbaijan both in the international arena and successes in the country as well.”
Another woman said: “Don’t worry, we’ll vote for the right person. You understand who that is.”
Between 2003 and 2012, Azerbaijan’s national income per person went from something near 600 euros per year to approaching 6,000 euros – the world’s biggest rise in that time.
President since 2003 Ilham Aliyev counts on reaping the fruits of that success. His father, Heydar, ran the country for 23 years. Aliyev the son was re-elected in 2008, in a poll that western observers considered flawed. A referendum then removed a constitutional two-term limit on the same person being president.
So could Aliyev be head of state indefinitely? If political prisoners are kept away – arrests have doubled their numbers this year, and going to banned rallies is punishable by increasingly high fines – if his governance is not disrupted by civil or natural causes or war… He does have many supporters.
Opponents see no immediate chance of ousting Aliyev, but problems are growing that they hope he will eventually have to address. He comfortably declined to engage in any meaningful debate against the single opposition candidate.
That is Jamil Hasanly. He repeated the same message throughout his campaign: “Today in Azerbaijan there is no democratic environment. The Azeri government does not want to conduct democratic and free elections. There is no democratic atmosphere in the country.”
Azerbaijan is a major European energy supplier and a transit route for US troops in Afghanistan. Critics say this has made the West turn a blind eye to shrinking freedoms since Aliyev came to power. Braving the backlash, thousands of Azeris demanded his resignation at a rally in Baku last month.