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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 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.

Azerbaijan is run in a manner similar to the feudalism found in Europe during the Middle Ages: a handful of well-connected families control certain geographic areas, as well as certain sectors of the economy. By and large, this seems to be the case, with general agreement among leading families to divide the spoils and not disturb one another's areas of business or geographic control. The families also collude, using government mechanisms, to keep out foreign competitors, and entities such as the State Border Services, State Customs and tax authorities create barriers that only the best connected can clear. As a result, an economy already burgeoning with oil and gas revenues produces enormous opportunity and wealth for a small handful of players that form Azerbaijan's elite.




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