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…

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…

2012: DEMOCRACY IN THE SOUTH CAUCASUS – TIME TO BE CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC.

cew collageIn an end of year essay on the state of play in the South Caucasus, long time regional analyst Dennis Sammut says that democrats in the South Caucasus, and their friends, need not be ecstatic about the achievements of 2012. But they can allow themselves a moment of optimism and satisfaction.

Fragile gains give hope

There has not been a single revolution. The three Presidents who held office at the beginning of the year were still sitting in their palaces as the year end approached. Yet in many respects 2012 has been an unprecedented and momentous year for the countries of the South Caucasus and one that is bound to leave its mark on the future politics of the region.

By and large democracy has won. An opposition party thrashed the ruling party in parliamentary  elections in Georgia. Parliamentary elections in Armenia were deemed better than previous ones and five political forces gained seats in the new National Assembly, and in Azerbaijan pro-democracy activists carved a larger space for their activity through clever use of new media, whilst a much predicted post Eurovision crack-down on dissent failed to materialise.

The fragile gains of 2012 give hope that the region has turned the corner in its efforts towards democratic state-building, but democracy is far from secure. There remains a serious democratic deficit and none of this year’s gains are as yet consolidated, so they can easily be swept away. But for once, it does no harm to be optimistic. More…

Four views on current politics in Azerbaijan ahead of presidential elections in October 2013

The Maidan Tower in Baku. A symbol of Azerbaijani history.

With the democratic transition of power progressing in Georgia, the focus of the regional and international community is increasingly shifting to the upcoming elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Notably, Azerbaijan has scheduled presidential elections for October 2013, which are regarded by many observers as crucial for the democratic development of the country.

Marion Kipiani was recently in Baku and she spoke with four experts about their perceptions of the political system, the upcoming elections, and the possible impacts of the change of government in Georgia on the electoral environment in Azerbaijan. The political and electoral systems in Azerbaijan are still under development, this was one of the few statements that the four experts unanimously agreed on.  Farhad Mammedov, Razi Nurullayev, Anar Mammadli and Arastun Orujlu tell her why. More…

COMMENTARY: No honeymoon period for Ivanishvili’s government

No soft touch. Bidhzina Ivanishvili is a shrewd self-made man.

Most new governments enjoy a brief honeymoon period at the start of their administration: a time when they can bask in the glory of their victory and a period of grace that the public that elected them allows them before they start demanding that they deliver on their electoral promises. It has now become clear that the government of Bidhzina Ivanishvili in Georgia, which was confirmed by parliament on 25 October, is not going to have such a luxury, as it starts to come to terms with a wide range of problems that they inherited from the previous government.

At the same time as it walks the delicate tightrope of political co-habitation, the new Georgian government is facing challenges in a number of fields, ranging from a tense situation in the prisons , to strike action in some key industries, to having to deal with a financial gap in the budget. The government had not even been properly approved by parliament when a number of problems started emerging, none so far resulting from anything of its own doing. The victory of the Georgian Dream coalition in the 1 October elections raised expectations amongst vast sections of the Georgian population. More…

Comment: The significance of the Georgian political earthquake is still sinking in.

The first meeting of the new Georgian Government held in Kutaisi on 25 October 2012.

It has been a month since the 1 October Georgian elections which resulted in a landslide victory for the Georgian Dream coalition of Bidhzina Ivanishvili. In terms of Georgian politics, and indeed region wide, this has been a political earthquake.

Not only has an incumbent government in the region been defeated through the ballot box for the first time, and not only has the transfer of power been done in a by and large proper fashion; It is also an earthquake because very few saw it coming.

Many diplomats in Tbilisi are with egg on their face. Their political reporting to their respective capitals over the last year failed to prepare their governments for the change of power. This flaw is particularly acute amongst Embassies of the European Union member states and institutions. The somewhat clumsy way in which the EU acted in the period immediately before and after the election raises some questions. Lessons need to be learned because if people think that this has not been noticed they are wrong. More…