Azerbaijan - Politics
The political situation of Azerbaijan was extremely volatile in the first years of independence. With performance in Nagorno- Karabakh rather than achievement of economic and political reform as their chief criterion, Azerbaijanis deposed presidents in 1992 and 1993, then returned former communist party boss Heydar Aliyev to power.
The human rights situation in the country remains poor with backsliding in some areas, especially media freedom, religious freedom, and political participation. Restrictions on freedom of assembly, expression, and religion continue, as do arbitrary arrest and detention, and the imprisonment of persons for politically motivated reasons. Over the past few years, political space for opposition voices has become more limited. Arrests and detention for unregistered religious activity continues in some localities. Authorities have destroyed or closed a number of mosques. Corruption remains pervasive, as does the lack of accountability for torture of individuals in detention, violence against journalists, and excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators.
Azerbaijan declared its independence from the former Soviet Union on August 30, 1991, with Ayaz Mutalibov, former First Secretary of the Azerbaijani Communist Party, becoming the country's first President. Following a March 1992 massacre of Azerbaijanis at Khojali in Nagorno-Karabakh (a predominantly ethnic Armenian region within Azerbaijan), Mutalibov resigned and the country experienced a period of political instability. The old guard returned Mutalibov to power in May 1992, but less than a week later his efforts to suspend a scheduled presidential election and ban all political activity prompted the opposition Popular Front Party (PFP) to organize a resistance movement and take power. Among its reforms, the PFP dissolved the predominantly Communist Supreme Soviet and transferred its functions to the 50-member upper house of the legislature, the National Council.
Elections in June 1992 resulted in the selection of PFP leader Abulfez Elchibey as the country's second President. The PFP-dominated government, however, proved incapable of either credibly prosecuting the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict or managing the economy, and many PFP officials came to be perceived as corrupt and incompetent. Growing discontent culminated in June 1993 in an armed insurrection in Ganja, Azerbaijan's second-largest city. As the rebels advanced virtually unopposed on Baku, President Elchibey fled to his native province, the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan. The National Council conferred presidential powers upon its new Speaker, Heydar Aliyev, former First Secretary of the Azerbaijani Communist Party (1969-81) and member of the U.S.S.R. Politburo and U.S.S.R. Deputy Prime Minister (until 1987). Elchibey was formally deposed by a national referendum in August 1993, and Aliyev was elected to a 5-year term as President in October with only token opposition. Aliyev won re-election to another 5-year term in 1998, in an election marred by serious irregularities.
In the 1995 constitution, the speaker of parliament stands next in line to the president. However, constitutional amendments approved in a flawed process in August 2002 included a provision replacing the speaker of parliament with the prime minister in the line of succession to the presidency.
Heydar Aliyev was able to create stability by negotiating energy contracts, making food readily available to the population, and fixing the problems plaguing Baku's public transportation system. The bread lines common during Azerbaijan's early years of post-Soviet independence were no more. He got high marks for providing stability that the citizenry learned to value and allowed for cease fire negotiations with the Nagorno-Karabak conflict and for the development and implementation of some promising economic and democratic reforms.
A presidential election that took place on October 15, 2003 resulted in the election of Ilham Aliyev, the son of Heydar Aliyev. The election did not meet international standards. Ilham Aliyev, the son of former president Heydar Aliyev, assumed the office of president on October 31, 2003. Things started to change when Ilham Aliyev took over the Presidency. Heydar Aliyev died December 12, 2003.
The parliament is historically a weak body with little real influence. Azerbaijan's first parliament was elected in 1995. The 125-member unicameral parliament was elected in November 2005 in an election that showed some improvements, but did not meet a number of international standards. A majority of parliamentarians are from the President's "New Azerbaijan Party." The parliament also includes up to 10 opposition members and a sizeable number of nominal independents. Many of these independents are believed to have close ties to government, while as many as 20 others are business leaders whose political affiliations are not clear.
In 2006, Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev repeatedly affirmed his government's commitment to democratic development and political reform. Azerbaijan's human rights record remained poor and the government committed numerous human rights abuses. Government officials increased restrictions on media freedom, most notably by temporarily closing Azerbaijan's leading independent television and radio company, ANS, in late November. The government also opened numerous criminal libel lawsuits against independent newspapers. Journalists, particularly those affiliated with opposition parties, continued to face harassment and intimidation. Two opposition party journalists were physically assaulted, one in March 2006, another in May 2006, by unidentified assailants. In September 2006, a court sentenced a leading political satirist to jail on narcotics possession charges most observers believed to be spurious.
The Government severely restricted the exercise of freedom of assembly, not granting authorization for a single opposition political rally in Baku during the entire year. Unsanctioned demonstrations attempted by the opposition were broken up by police intervention. In November police detained approximately 40 opposition persons, sentencing them to between two and 15 days in "administrative" detention for attempting to hold a protest near the Mayor's office.
On May 13, 2006, Azerbaijan held re-run parliamentary elections in ten districts. As with the November 2005 parliamentary elections, the GOAJ publicly committed to meeting international standards and instituted some reforms. There was some progress in the conduct of the parliamentary rerun elections, specifically improvements in finger-inking, candidate registration, largely unimpeded campaigning, and quick posting of the results on the website of the Central Election Commission. There were large numbers of domestic election observers who participated, including representatives of the Election Monitoring Center. There was consistency between the official results and the results of the U.S. Government-supported exit poll. There were, however, reports of irregularities in the pre-election period, including the misuse of administrative authority in support of specific candidates, as well as allegations of fraud in specific precincts on Election Day. Also, there were reports that some domestic observers were restricted in their access to the electoral process.
Ilham Aliyev won re-election on October 15, 2008, taking 88.7% of the vote in an election boycotted by the major opposition parties. While the presidential election marked progress toward meeting Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) commitments and other international standards with regard to some technical aspects of election administration, the election process failed to meet some OSCE standards, according to the final report of the OSCE/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) election monitoring mission. In December 2008, the Azerbaijani parliament approved a measure calling for the abolition of presidential term limits, among other provisions. After limited public debate, the measure passed in a March 18, 2009 referendum on constitutional amendments.
The 125-member unicameral parliament was elected in November 2010 in an election that did not meet a number of international standards. Of the total, 70 elected parliamentarians are from the President's New Azerbaijan Party, 10 are from various other political parties that largely support the President, and 42 claim no party affiliation, but consistently vote with the ruling party. Traditional opposition parties Musavat and the Popular Front are not represented in parliament. The November 2010 parliamentary elections were marred by a deficient candidate registration process, limits on freedom of assembly and expression, a restrictive political environment, unbalanced media coverage of candidates, and problems in vote counting and tabulation.
In 2011, several political protests calling for democratic reform and the government's resignation were forcefully dispersed and 15 protesters were sentenced to 18 months to three years of incarceration for their participation in such protests. Applications to hold protests in Baku were repeatedly denied throughout the year. Local NGOs have reported forced evictions on dubious eminent domain grounds, inadequate compensation, and unclear property registration regulations. Restrictions on the freedom of religion also remain a problem. Corruption remains pervasive in all aspects of society.
Conventional wisdom had long dictated that First Lady (and MP) Mehriban Aliyeva was likely to succeed Ilham Aliyev as Azerbaijan's next President in 2013. She is overwhelmingly popular - perhaps even more so than her husband - and has garnered international attention for her humanitarian and cultural work. However, the idea of extending the presidential term from five years to seven years had been floated several times. According to the Azerbaijani Constitution, extending the presidential term would require a nationwide referendum, for which no one appeared to be making preparations. The government did not seem to be grooming anyone else to take over the Presidency in the near future.
Clashes are expected to grow as antigovernment sentiment mounted ahead of October 2013 elections in which the country’s autocratic leader, Ilham Aliyev, was expected to run for a controversial third term as president. Aliyev has been widely criticized in the West for overseeing a deeply corrupt, oil-fed regime that has systematically muzzled and jailed critics to cement its hold on power.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|