Analysis: “The current political situation in Azerbaijan should not be interpreted simplistically.”

Dennis Sammut

Dennis Sammut

Ahead of Presidential Elections in Azerbaijan, political analyst Dennis Sammut looks at the background to the current political situation and the likely post-election scenario.

Many consider that the result of the presidential elections due to be held in Azerbaijan on 9 October is a foregone conclusion. Some polls commissioned by pro-government sources are already predicting that 90% of those voting will cast their ballot in favour of the incumbent President Ilham Aliev. The opposition claims, and many international observers agree, that the political space for those opposing the  government in Azerbaijan is narrower now than at any time since the collapse of the USSR, of which Azerbaijan was one of the constituent republics.

So why is the government, the opposition, the international community and others bothering to go through the motions of having an election, and of engaging with it in different ways? The answer is that there is a political debate and process going on in Azerbaijan, in public, but mostly under the surface. The Presidential election is not the most important part of it by far, but with all its shortcomings it is still an essential piece of the jigsaw for both government and opposition. More…

Georgia marks the eight anniversary of the death of Zurab Zhvania – father of the modern Georgian Parliament.

Zurab Zhvania

Zurab Zhvania

Dennis Sammut looks back at the life of one of the most outstanding politicians in the Caucasus in modern times.

On Sunday, 3rd February Georgia marked the 8th anniversary of the death in mysterious circumstances of Zurab Zhvania, a liberal and progressive politician who is best remembered for his work to establish the Georgian parliament as a credible and model institution, in the mid-1990s.

Zhvania started his political career as an environmental activist in the last years of the Soviet Union, and in the years of perestroika set up the Green Party of Georgia which became a focal point for many similarly minded young Georgian intellectuals. In 1992 he was appointed a member of the State Council, a body that had been created after the end of the 1991-2 civil war. Zhvania became an ally of Edward Shevardnadze after the latter returned from Moscow to head the State Council and lead Georgia out of the chaos in which it had found itself.  In 1993 he became the head of the Citizens Union of Georgia, a broad based political force which aimed to support Shevardndze’s endeavours for reform and stability.

In November 1995 Zhvania was elected Chairman of the Georgian parliament. In a very short period of time he managed to introduce a parliamentary tradition in the post-Soviet country, justifiably earning for himself the title of father of the modern Georgian Parliament. He steered Georgia’s membership to the Council of Europe, which it joined in 1999, well ahead of its neighbours Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Georgian Parliament in this period was considered a model not only for other post-Soviet countries but for parliaments in other transition countries far beyond. He was well respected in European and North American political circles, as well as in the region for his visionary ideas that combined with astute pragmatism. His belief in Georgia’s European vocation was never at the exclusion of its Caucasian roots. More…


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…

“Any shvilli is fine as long as he is the true choice of the Georgian people.” EPC hosts roundtable discussion about Georgia in Brussels.

Speakers at an event on the Georgian elections held at the E{PC in Brussels on 19 September 2012.

The leading Brussels think tank, The European Policy Centre (EPC), on 19 September hosted a round table discussion on the Georgian elections with the participation of Georgian politicians, and representatives from European institutions and civil society. The well attended event was chaired by Amanda Paul, Senior Analyst at the EPC.

The different views of the Georgian political spectrum were presented by Giorgi Kandelaki, Deputy Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Georgian Parliament and an activist of the United National Movement who gave a spirited, somewhat aggressive presentation, whilst the opposition view was presented by a more statesmanlike presentation by Tedo Japaridze, Georgia former Foreign Minister and currently International Secretary of the Georgian Dream coalition.

The European perspective was given by the Estonian Ambassador to the EU Matti Maasikas, Polish MEP Krzysztof Lisek, Jacqueline Hale, a senior policy analyst at the Open Society Institute in Brussels and Dennis Sammut, Executive Director of LINKS, the London based think tank. More…