Opposition boycotts ‘most democratic Azerbaijan election’
More than 1,200 international observers are following the vote.
There are seven candidates, and polls suggest President Ilham Aliyev will be re-elected. Almost four out of five voters support him. Ilham Aliyev came to power five years ago shortly after the death of his father, the previous president.
The oil-rich republic has been developing rapidly in the recent years, with the pace of economic growth among the highest in the world. This year Azerbaijan is expecting a whopping 18% increase in GDP, which is a slowdown from the 25% growth of last year.
Azerbaijan’s share in global oil exports is almost 1.5% nowadays, according to political analyst Rasim Musabekov.
“This is a substantial amount mainly for the European market. Most of the pipelines used for our oil exports run through Georgia and that's why Azerbaijan is especially interested in stability in this country,” he said.
The republic has its own territorial issues. Nagorno-Karabakh has been de-facto independent from Baku since 1994 following an undeclared war with Armenia.
A few days before the election President Ilham Aliyev promised to put more pressure on Armenia saying the only way the issue can be settled is on the basis of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. The fate of at least half a million refugees depends on the issue.
Allakh Firdi Talukhanov, the head of an electoral district says refugees are very organised voters.
“It is vital for them, as they hope they will be able to return to their native land, where they were born. They have been waiting for the moment when they are allowed to return to their land,” he explained.
Another important issue for voters is relations with Russia. Hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis live in Russia permanently. Some estimates say the figure could run into millions – a huge number for a nation of less than nine million people.
Russia is one of among Azerbaijan’s largest trade partners. Azerbaijan and Russia are also strategic partners, as Zviad Samedzade, member of Azerbaijani parliament, noted.
“Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, in the most difficult circumstances, Azerbaijan has had good relations with Russia and these relations have been developing successfully,” he said.
But President Aliyev has been successful in building friendly relations not only with Russia.
Azerbaijan is also cooperating with NATO. Its troops are a part of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. Washington has been helping Baku to develop its military and Azerbaijan's location between the energy-rich Caspian region and Europe and its oil industry makes the country a small but important global player.