Ilham Aliev: “We are not a post Soviet country”.

President Ilham Aliev addressing a meeting of the cabinet of Ministers in Baku on 15 January 2013.

President Ilham Aliev addressing a meeting of the cabinet of Ministers in Baku on 15 January 2013.

Azerbaijan has become the latest country to shed off its “post-soviet label”. The term long frowned upon by the Baltic states and Georgia amongst others, is often used to describe those countries that emerged from the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev, who later this year will seek re-election for the third term, told a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers that Azerbaijan had made great achievements in the economic field and in the sphere of international diplomacy. the President said that next month the country will also launch its first telecommunications satellite into orbit. Aliev said, “ Azerbaijan is becoming a space-faring nation, we are developing a space industry. a few years ago it was hard to imagine that there would come a time when Azerbaijan would become a space-faring nation. But that time is coming, and in the next few days we will celebrate this historic event. this, in itself, is a great achievement in every sense – for the prestige of the country, for its modernization and for the development of new technologies. It is also beneficial for business, because it is an economically viable project.

But most importantly, it demonstrates the development and intentions of our country. It demonstrates our overall outlook and policy because we are building a modern and strong state. We have long gone beyond regional boundaries. We have long left in the past the notion of a post-Soviet country. We are not a post-Soviet country. Sometimes in meetings with foreign partners the phrase “post-Soviet country” is used. I say to them, “Wait. Azerbaijan is not a post-Soviet country. Perhaps some countries are post-Soviet, but we are not. We are the independent state of Azerbaijan.” More…

Skeletons fall out of Saakashvili’s cupboard. Prosecutor General says there is worse to come.

President Saakashvili denied all knowledge of the affair and proposed a new law to protect citizen's privacy.

President Saakashvili denied all knowledge of the affair and proposed a new law to protect citizen’s privacy.

Just when the memories of the prisoner abuse scandal in Georgia had started to fade, another scandal involving gross abuse of power of the Georgian government led by President Mikheil Saakashvili, defeated in the 1 october 2012 elections has emerged.

The scandal involves the activity of a unit within the Military Police Department of the Georgian Ministry of  Defence which was tasked with the entrapment of gay public personalities, who were lured into sexual activity, filmed and then blackmailed. Prosecutors say that senior members of the former government working in the Ministry of Defence were involved in the operation. The former Defense Ministry officials, prosecutors charge, extorted money from their victims and coerced them into cooperating with the secret services. In some cases, this allegedly involved voicing public support for Saakashvili and the government his party controlled. More…

PACE pre-electoral delegation concerned about a general lack of interest and trust in the election process ahead of Armenian Presidential Poll.

coeA delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has raised concerns ahead of the 18 February Presidential Elections in Armenia.

The PACE pre-electoral delegation was in Yerevan last week at the invitation of the President of the National assembly of Armenia. The delegation of parliamentarians, headed by Karen Woldseth (Norway, EDG), and including Luca Volontè (Italy, EPP/CD), Stefan Schennach (Austria, Soc), and Mailis Reps (Estonia, ALDE) met with presidential candidates, including the incumbent President, leaders of factions in the Parliament, the Minister of Foreign affairs, the President of the National assembly, the chairman of the Central Electoral Commission, the Head of the National Police, the General Prosecutor, NGO and media representatives, the head of the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission and diplomats in Yerevan.

A full 22-member delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly will arrive in Yerevan in mid-February to observe the vote. The PACE delegation will present its findings and recommendations to the assembly during its april session in Strasbourg.

In statement posted on the Council of Europe website (www.coe.int) the delegation welcomed “the intention of the Armenian authorities to organise an election fully in line with international standards”. the statement adds: “however, a crucial matter of concern for the delegation is the continuing substantial inaccuracies in the voter list, since an accurate list is a prerequisite for any proper election. there is still confusion about the right to vote for Armenians living abroad. the delegation was also disappointed to note that previous recommendations on urgently dealing with these issues have not been implemented.   More…

Azerbaijani Political activism searches for ways of expression.

baku protest 2Political activism in Azerbaijan continues to search for ways of expressing itself in an environment that whilst not being totalitarian, leaves little space for the expression of dissent.

For many years street protests were the way that Azerbaijanis vented their political opinions. But opportunities for that have become increasingly limited, with the government restricting public demonstrations, and banning them completely from the centre of the capital, Baku.

Despite technical and financial problems, several anti-government newspapers continue to publish. Journalists report harassment of all forms, especially when reporting on corruption, but many remain undeterred.

In recent years many young activists have taken to cyberspace, where many young activists now blog regularly in Azerbaijani, English Russian and other languages, connecting not only with their own compatriots at home and abroad, but also internationally. The government has by and large tried to ignore this phenomena, using positive methods to counter it, largely by strengthening its own on-line presence.

Youth groups have become increasingly active and increasingly artistic in their methods. Increasing international attention has made the Azerbaijani government more sensitive to the way it handles dissent, and there are some signs that “soft policing” may be more in fashion now. Both sides however are testing the water. More…

An odd affair: Armenia’s Presidential election needs to be more than about ticking boxes.

On 18 February 2013 Armenians go to the polls to elect their President for the next five years. All three South Caucasus countries will have presidential elections this year, but in Georgia and Azerbaijan polling is expected to be in October.

Armenia held parliamentary elections not so long ago, in May 2012. These elections were considered a step forward in the country’s transition to democracy. Some aspects of the poll were problematic, but a result which enabled all the main political forces in the country to enter parliament was positively assessed. February’s Presidential election was considered the logical next step forward. The stakes here are however higher.

Unlike in the Parliamentary elections this time the winner takes all, and in the circumstances that have developed since May, there is little doubt who that winner is going to be.

So far everybody has been going through the motions. The Central Elections Commission worked through the New Year and Christmas holidays to accept the nominations. It then went through the process of weeding out those of the 15 candidates who were initially registered but who could not make the approximately 20,000 USD deposit that is required by law (and which will be forfeited if the candidate does not get 5% of the vote). Seven of the fifteen candidates did not, and have been eliminated leaving eight: incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan and seven others. It is difficult to describe the seven others as non-entities, since they are not that. Some have long and distinguished political careers, such as former Foreign Ministers Raffi Hovhanessian and former Prime Minister Hrant Bagratian. Others also are recognisable personalities due to their political activity (Melikyan ) or civil society or patriotic work (Harutyunyan, Hayrikyan, Sedrakyan and Ghukasyan). More…

Georgian Parliament overrides Presidential veto on Amnesty law

David UsupashviliIn a move unprecedented in Georgia’s modern political history, the Georgian parliament has overridden a Presidential veto, and enacted into law an amnesty that affects all of Georgia’s large prison population except those serving a life sentence.

On Sunday, 13 January 190 persons who the Georgian parliamentary had earlier declared to be political prisoners were released from prison. Amongst them were many who had been involved in various attempts to bring down the government of President Saakashvili over the last three years.

The long constitutional process started in December when the Parliament approved the amnesty law. President Mikheil Saakashvili refused to sign the law, and sent it back to parliament. In a second vote, which also showed how much the strength of the pro Saakashvili United National Movement had weakened in parliament since the October elections, the veto was overturned with 91 votes against 24. Three fifths of the members of parliament (89 MPs) were required by the Constitution for the presidential veto to be overturned.

The President then had until 11 January to sign the bill, and in case that he did not, the Chairman of Parliament had the right to sign it instead.

On 12 January, Parliamentary Chairman David Usupashvili signed the law in a televised event triggering the release of about 3,000 prisoners, as well as reduction of prison terms for thousands of others. More…