Tainted by scandals and controversies, some bordering on the absurd, Azerbaijan's presidential election is now over. In a country where the monopolistic ruling party can easily manipulate everything from the voter registries to the list of international election observers, the incumbent's victory by an 80 percent margin should come as no surprise. After all, elections in autocracies like Azerbaijan mean little in terms of domestic power struggles.
But what will President Ilham Aliyev's third term mean to the outside forces, such as the U.S. government, that can engage his regime on a more level playing field than can his domestic rivals? Despite some hopes to the contrary, the election is unlikely to serve Washington’s interests on the three official pillars of American foreign policy in Azerbaijan—cooperation in the areas of energy, security and democracy-building.
In the run-up to the Oct. 9 poll, American experts commenting on Azerbaijan could be separated into two distinct categories. One group called on the U.S. government to pressure Azerbaijan on its miserable record of human rights and freedom; the other painted a rosy picture of the country as a stable and prosperous American partner in a crucial neighborhood. According to the latter view, despite Baku’s gross democratic shortcomings, the current state of the U.S.-Azerbaijan relationship is tolerable due to fruitful cooperation over energy and security concerns.