As I know that some of the visitors of my blog are looking around for some reflections on yesterday’s referendum in Azerbaijan, here are my 50 cents. Keep in mind that I am in Georgia at the moment so I am not ‘on the ground’ (if one can be ‘on the ground’ at all).
Over the past days I have constantly bothered a senior colleague who has been working in the Southern Caucasus for over a decade, asking him whether he had any news on the Azerbaijani referendum. He couldn’t understand my interest as he said that nothing would happen and the outcome has already been set. Approval rate of the constitution of more than 90% and certainly over 60% of participation, was his expectation. O, irony.
I saw the voting ballot a couple of weeks ago and even a democracy fanatic and certainly no opponent to referendums like me, I could not imagine myself devoting any time to such a monster of a ballot. I believe there were 29 questions to which all voters were supposed to say yes or no to, independently. Admittedly, it is much better and democratic than if they would have had an option for a single box to tick, but I simply cannot believe that 60% of the population has actually spent at least 10 minutes reading the ballot and casting its vote. It would have brought the whole country to a standstill if that was the case. (Coming to think of it, could anyone do some mathematics and count how much total time it would cost for 60% of the population to spend 10 minutes on voting and comparing it to the amount of total time available for voting (amount of voting boxes times 6 * 13 hours) ?)
There were independent international observers at the referendum. Yeah, right. I am sure they were probably not much different than these guys (essential reading, trust me). I have no confidence anyway in the opinion of those parachuting short-term election observers, Western, Eastern or Marsian, as they naively assume that elections are only rigged at the very day of the elections. I think that about 95% of the voting manipulation takes place prior to elections or referendums, through intimidation of opposition activists, severely maiming of independent media, overall strategy of stimulating political apathy among citizens, etc. . One only needs to have a pervert mind and winning elections actually becomes very easy.
What’s next? I might be completely wrong but it didn’t seem to me that the opposition has been able to make any fist at all. In addition, during my visits to different NGO centers (where I held my trainings), local NGO representatives were complaining that the authorities were becoming more and more intolerant of their work. Its like someone is slowly sucking the oxygen out of the Azerbaijani air. I have met the most wonderful people in Azerbaijan and I’m adamant about going back in 1,5 week, but there is no doubt that the country has just taken another step back.