Aliyev Poised to Win Re-Election

APAliyev supporters rallying in Sumgait, a town just north of Baku, on Monday.
BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Azeri President Ilham Aliyev is poised to cruise to re-election Wednesday in a ballot boycotted by the main opposition parties over accusations of vote rigging.

Although the vote is generating little suspense, it is being watched closely in Moscow and Washington for signs of unrest following the August war between two of Azerbaijan's neighbors, Russia and Georgia.

The Baku government is touting the elections as the most democratic in the country's post-Soviet history.

But the six leading opposition parties have pledged to boycott the vote, claiming election fraud and a history of closing independent media and imprisoning opposition figures. They say Europe and the United States are not pressing Azerbaijan hard enough for reform and have abandoned democracy in favor of stability and energy security.

"As long as there is no democracy in Azerbaijan and everything is decided by one man, the long-term interests of Europe and the United States cannot be secured here, and this simple truth should be understood by all," said Ali Karimli, head of the Popular Front Party.

Despite tensions, few expect a repeat of the violence that followed 2005 parliamentary elections. Thousands took to the streets in protest following what appeared to be widespread fraud.

At least four people were killed and scores injured when riot police used violence to crush the protests.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has sent a team of more than 400 election observers, said the tepid popular interest is a result of the absence of genuine choice.

Six candidates are running against Aliyev, although none is considered a true opposition voice.

Others say that the opposition simply has no appeal in a country where incomes have risen in tandem with soaring energy prices.

"The opposition talks a lot about the democratization of society," said Arastun Orujlu, director of the East-West Research Center. "But for the majority of the people, this is merely a theoretical idea."

In a report issued this month, the OSCE criticized the government for numerous irregularities during the election campaign. Opposition parties were barred from holding public meetings, the group said, and students and government workers appeared to have been coerced into attending pro-Aliyev rallies.

Only one transparently funded domestic group -- the Election Monitoring Center -- will be observing the elections Wednesday. After losing its license to work as an NGO earlier this year, it will be sending out hundreds of monitors as private citizens.

On Monday, with only two days left before the vote, the government declared that all polling stations were ready for a massive turnout.