Author: Namig MAILOV
The next presidential election in Azerbaijan will be held on April 11, as announced by President Ilham Aliyev in early February. From that day on, a president of Azerbaijan will be elected not for five years, as before, but for seven, as required by the changes made to the Constitution in autumn 2016. What is the balance of forces, political and economic situation, as well as the expectations of the country before and after the elections?
A few days before the announcement of the election date, the Russian Sberbank Investment Research made a survey, which predicted the victory of Ilham Aliyev in the upcoming presidential race.
“We do not see political risks, since the incumbent President Ilham Aliyev enjoys considerable public support and has no real opposition,” noted the analysts of Sberbank Investment Research in their survey Azerbaijan: Return to Baku.
Earlier, Ali Ahmedov, Deputy Chairman and Executive Secretary of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP), said that Ilham Aliyev will be the presidential candidate nominated by YAP. So said so done. The documents of Ilham Aliyev have been submitted to the Central Election Commission (CEC).
Then we saw the first rivals of the presidential race. The opposition party, Classical Popular Front of Azerbaijan (CPFA) intends to nominate its chairman Mirmahmud Miralioglu, while the other opposition party, the United People's Front of Azerbaijan, announced the nomination of its chairman, MP Gudrat Hasanguliyev. This was followed by the nominations of MP Zahid Oruj and the Social Democrat Araz Alizadeh. Earlier, young opposition politician Tural Abbasli also spoke about his intention to run for presidency. The list of potential candidates is likely to increase. But the real question is who will pass through the CEC screening by collecting the required number of signatures for the registration. “Obviously, the potential candidates will also need to report on their incomes, property and much more. Any violation can lead to refusal of registration,” said a member of the CEC Fuad Javadov, according to the Mir TV channel.
CEC will start accepting the documents from the approved candidates on February 20, and the pre-election campaign will start on March 19. Any citizen of the Republic of Azerbaijan who has been permanently residing in the country for at least 10 years can become a president. Also, the applicant must be eligible to vote and not have a serious criminal record.
Therefore, it is not surprising that immediately after the announcement of the election date, former officials currently living abroad and accused of illegal acts in Azerbaijan have become worried. Rasul Guliyev, former speaker of the parliament, former MP Huseyn Abdullayev and former ambassador Arif Mammadov, who earlier announced their intentions to run for the presidency, have made various critical statements against the authorities and called for boycotting the election, declaring that they would not recognize the results. Interestingly, these “ambitious politicians” do not even respect and recognize each other, as the recent dispute between R. Guliyev and H. Abdullaev shows.
As for the traditional opposition, the National Council, made up mostly of the close associates of Ali Kerimli, immediately announced the boycott of the elections. The Musavat Party, which initially wanted to nominate its leader Isa Gambar, subsequently abandoned its intentions – quite a natural decision. This traditional, albeit fragmented opposition has lost even the weak electoral base over the years and cannot compete with Ilham Aliyev, like in the previous elections. To secure at least some consolidation in the pre-election period is also unrealistic. Apparently, the opposition realizes that under the existing conditions of political and economic stability in Azerbaijan, any attempts to attract the votes through political populism means failure.
Today, it is impossible to persuade Azerbaijani voters to political adventures based on the revolutionary romanticism of the previous years. In the age of information technologies, people's elective preferences are based on pragmatic estimates. What are these estimates? In 2017, the World Economic Forum report ranked Azerbaijan the 35th best competitive economy of the world. International rating agencies once again raised the outlook for the country's sovereign issuer rating from “negative” to “positive.” In 2019, the experts predict a recovery of Azerbaijan's investment rating, which was shaken amid a sharp decline in world oil prices. Incidentally, the sceptics predicted almost an end to the Azerbaijani economy when the oil prices fell to record low marks.
“Last year's indicators demonstrated and proved that we were on the right track. The non-oil sector of national economy grew by 2.7%, non-oil sector in industry - by 3.7%, agriculture - by 4.1%, foreign exchange reserves - by 4.5 billion U.S. dollars,” said President Ilham Aliyev at the congress of the ruling party, where his candidacy was nominated for the next presidential race.
The president saw no reason to list all economic indicators, as he has regularly done before. We can feel the outcome of these indicators in everyday life as well, along with the political stability and continuity of the course so cherished by Azerbaijani voters.
By the way, the state of the national army has also great influence on the electoral preferences of Azerbaijani voters. The military response of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces to Armenian provocation in Karabakh in 2016 is also a positive record on Ilham Aliyev’s asset as a presidential candidate. This gives hopes for the restoration of territorial integrity in case the peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict fails.
According to Alexander Karavayev, a researcher of the Institute of Economics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the successful domestic and foreign policy pursued by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev undoubtedly influences the results of pre-election public opinion polls, according to which the incumbent president claims the majority of votes.
“Modern Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan of the 1990s-2000s are two different countries. The country has literally turned into an open-air museum. The national economy is growing stably. If oil was the main factor of this development before, today Azerbaijan is developing its tourism, transport and logistics potential, as well as a number of other spheres with a gradual transition to a diversified economy thanks to the efforts of the current government,” said Karavayev in his interview with Trend news agency. He added that one of the important achievements of the Azerbaijani government is nationwide and regional political stability and security.
Karavayev also noted that president’s family, which enjoys great popularity among the people, also plays an important role in the positive image of President Ilham Aliyev.
“The Azerbaijani people love the first lady, Mehriban Aliyeva, who is known for her social activities in the country. The same sympathy is felt for Leyla Aliyeva and other members of the president's family. Also, the people feels the same love and respect for the national leader Heydar Aliyev, whose policy is currently being successfully implemented by Ilham Aliyev,” said Karavayev.
Most other local and foreign analysts share Karavayev’s opinion. Of course, it is likely to expect criticism and biased assessments of the ruling regime in the course of the ongoing pre-election campaign in Azerbaijan.
Meanwhile, Baku has already invited the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to monitor the presidential election. The press service of the OSCE / ODIHR told about this invitation to APA news agency. It is reported that the institution is currently working on a mission that will estimate the required needs.
Either way, it is obvious that the incumbent president Ilham Aliyev will certainly be the clear favourite of the race. But it will be the Azerbaijani voter who says the final word on April 11.