On the Hustings
Diplomacy & Politics
The Azerbaijani political system is based on a new constitution implemented in 1995 shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The current President, Ilham Aliyev, is serving his second five-year term with popular elections due in October 2013 decided by the popular vote. President Aliyev is the son of the greatly respected national leader Heydar Aliyev, who was the president from 1993 until 2003. Ilham Aliyev was the Vice-President of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR), and he was also elected twice to the National Assembly, or the Milli Majlis. The President is the Head of State and chooses the Prime Minister, who will be the Head of Government and is confirmed by the National Assembly of Azerbaijan. The President also appoints all cabinet-level government officials. In line with the constitution, 38 ministers and the deputies of the prime minister form a subordinate body. The President has the executive power, while the legislative power lies with the Milli Majlis. This single chamber is formed after nationwide elections, the most recent being in 2010, which was won by the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (NAP). The current government holds 71 out of 125 seat in the Milli Majlis, with 41 of the remaining seats held by independents and 11 by various other political parties. The main opposition parties are the Democratic Reform Party, Great Creation Party, the Movement for National Rebirth, Party of Hope, Civic Unity, Civic Welfare, Justice Party, and the United Azerbaijan Popular Front, which each hold one seat in the National Assembly. The current chairman of the Nation Assembly is Ogtay Asadov. Elections for the Milli Majlis are held every five years on the first Sunday of November. The next parliamentary election will take place in 2015.
The National Assembly contains 11 parliamentary committees in total, which are the main engines behind the forming of the legislative framework. Currently, these committees cover the topics of legal policy, security and defense, economical politics, natural resources, agrarian policy, regional problems, social politics, science and education, culture, foreign relations, and human rights. These groups play a major role in drafting laws and recommendations for new codes, bills, action plans, and other key national programs. Each committee contributes greatly to its respective field with the aim of regulatory reform and improvements, while providing expertise, in-depth analysis, and guidelines for future development. Each committee must file biannual progress reports, as well as hold meetings that are open to the public and press to ensure transparency.
The Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, and Economic Court retain the judicial power in the country, which is realized in civil and criminal court proceedings. The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Azerbaijan is composed of nine judges appointed by the National Assembly. The judges are appointed for 15-year periods and cannot be elected for a second term, while the constitution provides for limits on their activities. The President appoints the chair and the deputy of the Constitutional Court.
Locally, Azerbaijan is divided into 78 rayons, or provinces, including 59 regional rayons and 11 municipal areas in the contiguous area of the country. The Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, a landlocked area of 5,300 square kilometers, borders Turkey, Iran, and Armenia. Nakhchivan is subdivided into eight administrative divisions; seven rural rayons and one municipal zone, the capital Nakhchivan City.
On October 16, 2013, Azerbaijan will hold its Presidential elections. It will mark a decade in power for the incumbent President Aliyev, who will be aiming for a third term. He will be looking to continue his work toward making Azerbaijan a strong and independent country. “Azerbaijan should stand among the most developed countries of the world, be competitive, restore its territorial integrity, and be an independent, strong, and democratic state,” Ilham Aliyev explained to TBY. During the President’s decade in power the state budget has risen from $1.5 billion to $25 billion, the poverty rate has dropped from 49% to 6%, 1 million jobs have been created, and unemployment is now down to 5.1%. During the run up to the election, the President will look to get public opinion behind him by trying to emphasize to the international community the need for a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, as well as recognition of the Khojaly Tragedy. The public will decide by popular vote the next president of Azerbaijan in October 2013.
As Azerbaijan becomes wealthier, it is looking to increase trade and diplomatic relations with other countries. With the country’s extensive gas supplies, Europe sees the nation as a stable and secure supplier to feed the continent’s massive demand for gas. Supplies to several European countries are up by 40%, and with the implementation of the TANAP project in 2017, relations are set to become even closer. Azerbaijan’s main partner when it comes to the energy security of Europe is its neighbor Turkey. The two countries currently have many ongoing projects together, and regularly initiate new ones, including the new $17 billion petrochemical and refinery complex in Turkey. Both countries have established a strategic and valuable partnership that is very beneficial to each nation as it improves the energy security of its western neighbors. Azerbaijan’s main trading partner is Italy, with an overall trade balance of $9.6 billion, France at $4.7 billion, and then Russia ($2.9 billion). As trade continues, Azerbaijan will be able to move closer to the EU to, perhaps, become a full member in the future. In March 2013, the European Eastern Partnership Program held talks in Lithuania with Azerbaijan and several other Central Asian countries about an associative agreement with the EU. Senior delegates expressed that the majority of the negotiation points have been worked out, but the fact the country is not a WTO member is slowing negotiations down. However, this does not mean that there is no way in for Azerbaijan, or that it is a one-way relationship. At the same time these talks were underway, Azerbaijan and delegates from the EU were in Brussels attending the “Azerbaijan and the EU: a Path Forward” conference, jointly organized by the Center for Strategic Studies in Azerbaijan and the European Political Center. The aim of the conference was to hold meetings and discuss security and defense agendas, economic ties, as well as improve cooperation of the Center for Strategic Studies and organizations in the EU.
One of Azerbaijan’s most rapidly developing partners is Russia. “Political dialogue, humanitarian cooperation, the strengthening of economic relations, and collaboration on other issues form the core of our bilateral agenda,” is how the President described relations with Russia. At the moment, Russia is the largest exporter of goods into Azerbaijan by volume, while at the same time importing huge amounts of Azerbaijani agricultural produce. Many Azerbaijani companies are also implementing agricultural processing projects inside Russia. Azerbaijan is not just interested in the largest nations; it wants to develop bilateral and multilateral relations with all countries in the region.
Azerbaijan is not just developing its relations country by country. On October 24, 2011, it was able to claim a non-permanent seat on the 15-member body of the UN Security Council. It easily won in the 17th round of voting, far surpassing the two-thirds majority needed with 155 votes, with second place Slovenia claiming 13, and Hungary one vote. Azerbaijan holds the seat for two years over 2012 and 2013 after succeeding Bosnia and Herzegovina. Azerbaijan joins the permanent members of China, France, Russia, the UK, and the US. The council gives the nation a louder voice on the international stage, which was taken up by the President when he addressed the Council in May 2012. He used his speech to highlight threats to international peace and security from terrorism and the need to strengthen international cooperation with the implementation of counterterrorism organizations.
In a further effort to improve international cooperation on a different platform, Azerbaijan joined the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in 2012. It becomes only the second European country, after Belarus, to receive full membership in the organization. The decision to join NAM was seen by some as a shift in international relations from the West; however, others have described it as more of a diversification process as Azerbaijan continues to keep open all economic options while thinking of the security of the country.
Another indicator of Azerbaijan’s growing role in the international community is that it has become the host for a Davos World Economic Forum event, to be held April 7 and 8 in Baku. The forum will concentrate on strategic dialogue in the South Caucasus and Central Asia, and feature topics related to economic development, financial system reform, and trade promotion.