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Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 7,124 6,090 5,600 102
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 810 710 650 146
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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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 itself. 

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 yore.

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 Azerbaijan. 

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 investors too. 

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 corruption. 

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.

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