The presidential election has become the key event of recent days in Azerbaijan, with incumbent president Ilham Aliyev’s sweeping victory. In an interview with EADaily, political analyst Ilgar Velizade (I.V.) and parliamentarian from ReAl Party Natig Jafarli (N.J.) share their views of the election outcome, possible changes in domestic and foreign policy of Baku.
What is your assessment of the snap presidential election in Azerbaijan? The country lacks any serious opposition and political competition. What will such situation result in?
I.V. The latest election made it clear that the country lacks capable opposition and the government has no real rivals at present and in foreseeable future either. The opposition that has experienced deep crisis for a long time already should understand that it cannot claim any tangible place in the country’s political life unless it sorts its own problems out.
N.J. Frankly speaking, it is very hard to call this process election. It was rather a formal approval of the incumbent president’s status for another seven years. In fact, the idea of election and the election process implies a very stiff competition, struggle of ideas and theses, programs, discussions and debates. We saw nothing of the kind. This means that the election process was formal. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen any real election or debate on future of our country. Therefore, this cannot be called full-fledged elections and, to my big regret, this election has killed the last hope in the institute of elections. This is a very dangerous and complicated trend and it will be very hard to overcome it.
What to expect from Ilham Aliyev during the next seven years? Do you anticipate any serious change in the domestic and foreign policy?
I.V. Changes are inevitable, first of all, due to some objective circumstances i.e. natural rotation of political elites, the need to prioritize further liberalization of economy amid growing role of the non-oil sectors as well as importance of separate sectors of economy in the business life of the country.
N.J. Frankly speaking, we would like to see fundamental system reforms in the country at least because the next election will be only in seven years. However, as we can see, there is not even a hint of such reforms. There were talks on various reforms two years ago, but after oil prices hiked at the end of last year and in the beginning of the current year, the rhetoric has faded away.
As you know, the country’s economy runs on oil money, while oil prices rose for 45% as compared to last year. This makes the government more confident and it delays reforms that are so necessary for the country. I think, we will see some staff reshuffles in the Cabinet and even the prime minister may be replaced.
I do hope that new officials will understand that they cannot manage the resources-based economy for long and system reforms are needed. As regards foreign policy, I do not anticipate any changes here. Azerbaijan wages a balanced policy and has rather good relations with both West and Russia. Naturally, these relations are spoiled from time to time. But global projects that Azerbaijan implements with the West and Russia help minimizing requirements to both the sides. I think, such policy will be continued.
The election was held amid strained relations of Russia and the West. What will be Azerbaijan’s stance in that conflict? Will Baku distance itself from Moscow?
I.V. Azerbaijan will not distance itself from its major partners and neighbors in the region, because they have nowhere to distance it. Contradictions between the West and Russia, of course, have a destructive impact on the regional policy, but Baku has not let others use it as an instrument. It will not let anyone do it this time either.
N.J. It is natural that the conflict of the West and Russia changes the situation in the region and in the world. Azerbaijan has good relations also with Turkey, Iran and they have moral, economic and political influence on Azerbaijan. Taking into account this moment, Baku will not take a tougher stance with regard to Russia. The West might demand some actions from Azerbaijan in this issue, but it seeks stability in the country, as global projects involving the West are implemented here.
Therefore, I do not think that the West will make any strict demands from Baku. Frankly speaking, in this issue amid aggravating conflict of Russia and the West, Azerbaijan’s stance is becoming stable, as both the sides seek positive relations with Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani government so far takes advantage of that situation.
What breakthrough do you anticipate in the Karabakh peace process during Ilham Aliyev’s new term? Will the negotiations be continued? Do you anticipate any use of force to resolve the conflict?
I.V. The negotiations will be continued, but their efficiency depends also and mainly on actions of other players, in particular, Armenia. If the negotiation process is not intensified, the use of force to settle the conflict is not ruled out.
N.J. Unfortunately, there is no optimism and hope that the conflict will be settled within the coming years. Global players are not interested in it yet. Unfortunately, everyone is de-facto interested in the current situation and seeks to freeze the conflict. No Big Power is interested in a flare-up. Therefore, I do not think that any progress should be expected in this issue.
One should consider the conflict in the context of the Russia-West contradictions. If tensions de-escalate - and it will happen, as the sides cannot conflict for long - and when there is a favorable background, this complicated conflict may be settled, because ceding occupied territories is inadmissible to Azerbaijan, while returning the lands without any status for Karabakh is inadmissible to Armenia.