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Sowing seeds of democracy in post-Soviet granite

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From his parents' dining room, Vugar Mammadov is building a campaign as an independent candidate for the Nov. 6 parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan. Hovering around him, Mr. Mammadov's campaign manager and a small volunteer staff drink tea made by his mother while they brainstorm ideas for his campaign posters. They need a new slogan.

The decorations in this dining room - family crystal, pictures of Mammadov in Europe from his days as a diplomat, a Kerry-Edwards poster, and English- language books on leadership - symbolize his campaign: home grown, proud, and cross-cultural.

Mammadov's first challenge is large: to foster a culture of campaigning in a country that has not yet experienced truly free elections. With a brand new American master's degree in international relations in hand, Mammadov has returned home with the energy necessary for this task. There are others like him. In his mid-thirties, he is one of many young candidates running as independents in the coming election.

Mammadov knows that the Republic of Azerbaijan faces major challenges beyond its conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region claimed by both states. It must manage the revenue and infrastructure of the Caspian Oil Basin while avoiding the effect of a rentier oil economy, whereby governments run on oil revenue - and citizens, who are not taxed, do not have proper representation. This effect has caused political and economic turmoil in many oil-producing states, namely neighboring Iran. Mammadov sees the success of the growing oil economy as very much linked with these elections. A more representational parliament will ensure that Azerbaijan stays the course of distributing oil revenues not only to military infrastructure but also to social services.


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