Running against George Washington's son
Unlike in the United States and the Philippines, in Azerbaijan carefully selected masses of voters are not bussed or hauled in.
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN - I got to the polling stations a bit too early and so caught the first voter (see photo). So with the other polling stations I visited: the voters were scarce, coming in ones and pairs. I think the photos will give you the sense of the place.
Unlike in the United States and the Philippines, in Azerbaijan carefully selected masses of voters ARE NOT bussed or hauled in, nor egged on to vote very early and sweetly counseled take their blessed time so that those who are not one’s sure voters are discouraged and go home after a longish wait.
I found this out from my own experience running successfully for Congress 3 times. It explains in part my mind-boggling victories by landslides in spite of the watchful eyes of a hostile Palace, which repeatedly broke its promise to me to let me run unopposed. In each election the Palace fielded candidates against me some with enormous wealth. There were repeated attempts to steal the ballot boxes but we would not let even the Marines do it; not least because I threatened on the phone that if they did, I would stop writing the SONAs.
This is not deplorable. Quite the contrary, it is called initiative and it isn’t a bad thing at all.
But Azerbaijan doesn’t do it, possibly because only 3 million will cast ballots out of an electorate of 4 million and the elections are not hotly contested.
Some might call this a dictatorial political situation but it is actually similar to Indian democracy under the Nehrus.
Running against the incumbent president, Ilham Aliyev, is like running against a Nehru; e.g., Jawaharlal Nehru’s brilliant daughter Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv if he hadn’t perished in a plane crash.
Ilham is the son of the Heydar Aliyev, the George Washington of the Azerbaijan, the father of the country.
Haydar was one of the top KGB officials, as I wrote earlier, and a full member of the Kremlin Politburo. He was a favorite of KGB head Andropov to head the Soviet Union in opposition to Gorbachev who was planning to replace it with chaos or what is usually called a liberal free enterprise democracy as opposed to another anarchy, a people’s democracy.
By the way, this shows that the USSR was in a strong sense a real democracy in that, even if you came from any of the socialist republics of the Soviet empire, you had as much chance as an ethnic Russian to attain the top posts in the Soviet state. In this case, the Politburo and the KGB which is possibly the best school of effective government in history when you compare the dismal record of countries where graduates of the Kennedy School of Government attain positions of influence.
Haydar’s photographs—with his stern and handsome face—grace the bulletin boards of the schools I visited as if they were taken yesterday and he was still the country’s first president and the man who saved Azerbaijan from plummeting into anarchy by rejecting neo-liberal Western economic prescriptions that were implemented with disastrous results in some of the breakaway former Soviet Socialist Republics.
After a short period of anarchy, which gave the country a taste of what it is like to be governed by NON-KGB trained and therefore incompetent politicians, Haydar was elected president and quickly smashed the mafias and started the country on its uninterrupted rise to increasing prosperity from its vast oil and gas resources.
He signed up the Seven Sisters oil companies—though on terms favorable to his country unlike the Malampaya deal with Shell. This has been an issue against the Aliyev dynasty, with the small opposition claiming that they could do much better than what they all warmly concede has been Aliyevs’ stupendous performance. That is a hard line to sell to any electorate. “I can do better than this great guy, not to mention his divine father.”
None of his opponents appear to have Ilham’s intellectual credentials, starting with a PhD in history from Moscow’s State Institute of International Relations, where he taught after graduation.
Ilham was elected after his father died. He multiplied the growth rate, reducing poverty down to 6% and saying that before long it will be gone completely.
And he can be believed because they are only 9 million and most are highly educated, as are the populations of most former Soviet states. Communism is the best system for providing basic services: certainly the best education. Witness Cuba with the best health care and educational systems in the Western world which still won’t accept it for fear of the invidious comparisons that will be made.
The reason is that real education is not about fostering creativity and self-realization, like your ability to be yourself. That takes no ability at all. Just be a bum, that we all basically are if we were driven by fear of unemployment
Indeed, why would you want to be yourself? You start out in life ignorant and you want to stay that way?
Creativity is for preschool. Real education is about mastering the various disciplines ranging from the humanities to the hard sciences. Mastering them to the point where you can conjure any item in that vast storehouse of knowledge without hesitation.
In short a classical education like the girls in Iran get so that they end up in nuclear facilities even if they must cover their heads as Muslim women.
I saw the president this morning casting his ballot. He is almost seven feet tall, slim, exuding physical power and intellectual command. He has a pronounced Roman nose. His wife is beautiful.
He knew how to conduct himself at the polling station, his old high school, radiating power by his reserve and his tight lips under a commanding moustache. He did not part his lips though he smiled.
He went up to the table and had his voter’s ID verified; his finger was inked; he was given a ballot and he went into a booth, stepped out and cast his ballot. He waited for his wife to finish. He listened to one man who clasped his hand—a local official possibly—but said nothing and then smiled at everyone in the room and left with his wife.
No small talk and no media shouting, “Ser, hoe ded yoh bot por?” I want to run for president one day just to be able to answer that: “I voted for my strongest opponent. I think he needs at least one more vote aside from the one he gave himself.” That is exactly what we would all say for the laughs and it would be a mistake because elections are not comedy skits though we like to think they should be because we equate informality with fitness for public office when it is quite the opposite.
I will go back to the polling stations when it should be crowded, towards the end of voting hours.
Outside the polling stations are exit poll people, asking those who care to answer how they voted. The exit polls give the unofficial results a little after midnight. The official results will be announced two days hence because a Muslim festival falls in between.
I told the exit pollsters we don’t do it their way: asking all the voters as they step out. We take random samples because our electorate in just Metro Manila is rather larger than that of this entire country. Plus random sampling leaves room for cheating by the official election body.
To say the result of the Azerbaijan election is a foregone conclusion is to say that these elections are like the Indian elections when the Nehru dynasts were running the subcontinent. Even after the Indian Supreme Court slapped down Indira Gandhi for declaring martial law, no one could challenge her in the political field.
It will be sometime before there are bread and butter issues that can pose a problem for the continuation of Aliyev power in Azerbaijan plus his advisers include world class mathematicians so that, like Lee Kwan Yew, he has a deep intellectual bench to fill the vacancy before a son assumes the same post as in Singapore.
Of the opposition candidates who spoke before the foreign observer groups, the most impressive was sadly an old man who had been imprisoned in the Soviet era but his political program consists also of the claim that he can, given the country’s vast resources, improve on the incumbent’s sterling performance for the second generation running.
Oh, and there is one other factor. Since independence, Azerbaijan has been fighting a border war with Armenia and it can get pretty brutal. So elections here are somewhat like running against Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War II. I learned something new.
In the palace of the ancient rulers of Azerbaijan there are walls pockmarked with bullet holes and faded stains that looked like blood vainly scrubbed away. “Armenians,” said our guide.
I said, “You mean this was during the German Turkish occupation; the genocide of the Armenians by the Turks?”
“No, this was the genocide of Azerbaijanis by the Armenians at about the same time,” she replied. This doesn’t justify what the Turks did then but it does put that horrible chapter, celebrated by Franz Werfel in Forty Days of Musa Dagh, in perspective.