Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Election Day in Azerbaijan

It's election day in Azerbaijan. The day the country re-elects its president Ilham Aliyev. I wandered into a polling place near my office. It was a beehive of activity. My colleagues and I were welcomed -- we met the election officials and the director of the school where the voting was taking place.

There were voters of all ages in the polling station -- including a 90-year old man.

The process looks similar to a US election -- minus the gauntlet of posters and campaigners outside the polling place. The only difference -- and it's a big one -- is that the outcome is a foregone conclusion. The voter shows their identity card -- is issued a ballot -- steps into a curtained booth -- checks off the person they are supporting and then places the ballot in a clear plastic, Tupperware looking -- container.

The election officials asked if we were observers and we said no, but they asked who we were and wrote down the name of our organization. They were extremely friendly to us and to those voting. They were even polite, but firm with a man who wandered in -- reeking of alcohol. As he stumbled toward the registration desk -- he was ushered back out the front door. Perhaps he was told to sober up and come back later.

As voters exit, a local NGO conducts an exit poll of every three voters. The pollsters happily showed us the results so far -- 19 votes for Mr. Aliyev and 1 vote for an opposition candidate.

The only real question is by what margin Mr. Aliyev will win this election. In the days leading up to it, his picture has been pasted on most shop windows -- he's gotten tremendous attention on television -- where he has cut numerous ribbons around the country -- opening new schools, new offices, new roads and new airports.

His opponents, on the other hand, have had very little air time on television and radio. So little, in fact, that many people don't even know the names of the other candidates.

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