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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tale of Two Neighbors and Two Elections

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BAKU, Azerbaijan -- As Georgia's opposition leaders moved into the plush offices recently vacated by the government they forced out in the country's "rose revolution," letters of support and congratulations poured in from around the world.

They came from Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, full of praise and admiration for Mikheil Saakashvili, the firebrand opposition leader who led the overthrow of President Eduard Shevardnadze.

But it was the communiqu? from Azerbaijan's Musavat, or Equality Party, that struck the most poignant note. While their opposition counterparts in Georgia taste the trappings of power, most of the Musavat party's leaders are in prison. It was noble of Musavat to send congratulations, but at heart, they must be green with envy because just a couple of months ago, they had hoped to pull off a similar change of power in Azerbaijan.

People may not remember it now, but Azerbaijan had elections in October. Ilham, the son of outgoing President Heidar Aliyev, was running for office. He was challenged by Isa Qambar, the pipe-smoking, diminutive leader of the Musavat party.

As in Georgia, a lot of voters are fed up with poverty and corruption. As in Georgia, international election observers said voting had been marred by ballot-rigging and fraud. And as in Georgia, opposition supporters came out on to the streets in the hours after the vote to protest, claiming the election was stolen.

But that is where the similarities end. In Tbilisi, the crowds camped outside parliament for days, untouched by police. In Azerbaijan, armored trucks rolled into the capital, and at the first sign of a rally, the police launched the most brutal assault I've ever seen. One man was killed and hundreds were arrested. Many are in jail to this day.

I'm not sure I know exactly why the two elections had such different outcomes. After all, the circumstances were similar: two ex-Soviet neighbors, with similar problems.

Partly it was down to the media: Georgia's TV stations carried round-the-clock coverage of the demonstrations, while in Azerbaijan newscasters simply announced that Ilham was the new president. Partly it was that the army in Georgia refused to use force against the protesters: Azerbaijan's troops showed no such scruples.

And partly, I think, it was that Georgians and Azeris are fundamentally different: Georgians have a greater grasp of democratic values, while the average Azeri has a more traditional respect for his superiors.

Whatever the reasons, Azerbaijan has maintained the old regime and with it, perhaps, a guarantee of stability; Georgia faces new elections and an uncertain future. Only time will tell which of the two made the right choice.

Chloe Arnold is a freelance journalist based in Baku, Azerbaijan.