To paraphrase Tolstoy, “All democracies are alike, all non-democratic regimes are unhappy in their own way.”
This is what we should bear in mind, looking ahead into 2014 in the Eurasia region.
This year will be remarkably election-free, with no significant polls in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, Iran or Ukraine. Turkey is the major exception, being scheduled to hold local elections in March and a presidential election in the summer. Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, unable to serve a fourth term as prime minister, is expected to run for the less powerful post of president.
Erdoğan is in big trouble. A host of corruption allegations has overtaken key members of his government and he has fallen out with a former important ally and patron, the Islamic thinker Fetullah Gulen. Whether and how a man used to wielding unchecked power in Turkey manages this crisis will be the story of the year in Turkey.
Yet Turkey at least has the advantage that its stormy weather is already visible. This is a political fight and no one is expecting mass violence or a military takeover.
Increasingly, Georgia falls into the Turkey category. The game is rough, but it does have rules. The bad news at the end of 2013 was that the new prime minister appeared to be continuing a push to prosecute members of the former government. The good news is that when it emerged that the new chief prosecutor Otar Partskhaladze had a criminal record (dating back to Germany in 2001) democratic pressure worked and he resigned.
The countries in the region that cause more concern are not those with bad weather, but the apparently calm ones where there is a risk of a hurricane. Russia may fall into this category. Armenia and Azerbaijan certainly do.
Azerbaijan is still waiting for a post-election thaw, now that President Ilham Aliyev has won re-election and the TANAP gas pipeline deal has been done with Turkey. But the trend so far has been in the other direction. On December 16, in an ominous sign, Anar Mammadli, head of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre (EMDS), a leading independent election monitoring group in Azerbaijan was arrested.
Armenia is an electoral democracy, but increasing numbers of its citizens feel disenfranchised. A recent commentary concluded that decision by President Serzh Sargsyan to join Vladimir Putin’s Customs Union had been motivated in large part by his desire to extend his power beyond his second term in 2018. In December the decision to hand over full control of the country’s gas supply to the Russians sparked small protests. Here, as in Azerbaijan, if a crisis erupts, it is hard to predict how things would develop as an angry opposition confronts a government determined to hang onto power.
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