Books on Azerbaijan
Update No: 326 - (28/02/08)
The year of Caucasus presidential elections
The Caucasus has seen two vital presidential elections of late, in Georgia in
January and in Armenia in February. It is due a third in October in Azerbaijan
The series of elections could transform the geopolitical and economic fate of
the whole region, a prime place in its part of the world and a conduit for
Caspian energy to the West.
Saakashvili back in Georgia
Georgia has re-elected President Mikhail Saakashvili in a contested contest. The
opposition has cried foul at the outcome of the January 5 vote. Protests
continued for weeks afterwards.
The victory of Mikhail Saakashvili in Georgia is a major event for President
Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan. The two presidents have much in common. They aspire
to align their countries with the West. They want to join NATO and ultimately
the EU. As inhabitants of the Caucasus, this is geographically feasible.
That puts both of them, however, at loggerheads with Russia. Actually, Russia
has more immediate reasons to be dissatisfied with them – they are playing
host to pipelines that are taking Central Asian energy to the West, skirting
Russian ones. They are no longer subservient to Muscovy, their fate in times of
PM wins in Armenia
Then in Armenia an even more vital election took place on February 19. The prime
minister, Serge Sargsyan, predictably became president. Armenia is of course
very much in the Russian camp. But there are signs that Sargsyan wants to change
that, do a deal with Azerbaijan at last over Nagorno-Karabakh and have the trade
embargos by both Azerbaijan and Turkey lifted.
Azerbaijan is after all a massive economic success story. So in a lesser way is
Turkey. Armenia needs to click into the action and lessen its dependence on
Russia. Former president Robert Kocharian was too much of a hardliner as a
former leader of the enclave to contemplate that.
But Sargsyan is more of a realist. He made a speech at the end of January in
which he said that the fate of the enclave should be “at the centre of
attention for the president of Armenia.” To the charge that his regime has
been in the grip of the Nagorno-Karabakh clan, he replied: “Only one of 12
officials is from Karabakh in the Government. I ensure that we will live in
another country in 4-5 years and life will change for better. So, go ahead
Armenia to the fair Armenia, to the Armenia we have always dreamed of.”
This may be a coded hint to Aliyev that he is prepared to do a deal. Since the
Armenians are occupying 20% of Azeri territory and there are as a result more
than one million Azeri refugees, this is a matter of no small moment for
World Community Alert
The world community should take note too and provide every inducement for a
solution that could transform the geopolitical map of the Caucasus and its
economic prospects. Condi Rice, David Miliband, et al, should be heading for
Yerevan and Baku.
The US and the UK are the two biggest investors in Azerbaijan and both have a
lot of clout. Wall Street and the City of London are prime sites for Azeri
Now for Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan is poised for presidential elections as well, although the outcome is
a foregone conclusion. It is not possible to see Aliyev losing power since the
nation’s democratic progress following American hectoring, has only been at a
snails pace and there is a long history of electoral as every other form of
However, Aliyev is genuinely rather popular due to the booming economy, soaring
at over 30% GDP growth per year. If he delivered on Nagorno-Karabakh, it could
be a landslide.
There is just time to do so. The ruling New Azerbaijan Party (NAP) has started
preparation work on the threshold of the presidential elections, scheduled for
15 October 2008. NAP stated predictably that the party would nominate the
candidature for the presidential post of the current president.
The Azadlig bloc, which unites opposition parties Popular Front, Liberal,
Citizen and Development, stated that the bloc would boycott the upcoming
election if no changes were made in the composition of election commissions.
That as they have all discovered is the key to holding genuine elections.
According to spokesman Gurbanli, the ruling party implemented an analysis of
previous errors made during the previous elections held in the country. “NAP
will implement preparations to the election campaign in compliance with the
election programme. The key factor which can provide a successful election
campaign at the upcoming presidential election is the existence of respect and
power of the party’s candidate among Azerbaijani voters,” Gurbanli said. One
of the main directions of the party is to hold a meeting on the threshold of the
election where the candidature from the party officially is to be approved.
NAP was founded in the enclave of Nakhchivan in 1992. The All-Nation Leader,
late Ex-President Heydar Aliyev was the first Chairman of the Party, having
earlier been Moscow’s man in Baku, a KGB general no less. President Ilham
Aliyev his son, is the present Chairman of the Party, which has been ruling for
14 years. The Aliyevs are not going anywhere else!
A vibrant economy- and how!
One reason for the continuity of the Aliyev clan in Azerbaijan is the
extraordinary buoyancy of its economy. It is growing, as we have seen, at a
phenomenal rate of over 30% per annum, due of course to oil. There is a lot of
leeway for a government presiding over such a bonanza.
Incomes are always upwards, at least for those in work. The one and a half
million refugees are faring badly; but they have no obvious means of redress.
Nevertheless, the dispute with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh remains the number
one geopolitical priority for the country.
Presidential elections in the Caucasus now mightily matter, progress of a sort
towards democracy – and anon perhaps the West.