Azerbaijan

Last update: 8 months ago

After years of rule, President Heyder Aliyev died in 2003. His son, Ilham Aliyev, took over the ruling party and his father’s post as president of Azerbaijan. Ilham Aliyev started his first term in October 2003 with cracking down the opposition that was protesting his undemocratic election. On 9 October 2013, after months of intimidation and restrictions on the opposition, Aliyev was elected for a third term. The opposition regretted the lack of political competition, the insufficient access the media and the pressure by the government. The opposition did not have enough opportunity to campaign and oppose the president. The country is also burdend by widespread corruption and a deadlock conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.

The constitutional referendum of 26 September 2016 extended the presidential mandate from five to seven years, two vice-presidential posts were created and the president was granted the right to schedule early presidential elections and dissolve the parliament. In total 29 constitutional amendments that strengthen the power of the president and state officials were approved.

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Map of Azerbaijan

Short facts

Population:
9,651,349 million (World Bank 2015 est.)
Governmental Type:
Republic
Ruling Coalition:
One ruling party - Yeni (New) Azerbaijan party
Last Elections:
1 November 2015 (parliamentary elections)
Next Elections:
2018 (presidential elections)
Sister Parties:
None
Image of Ilham Aliyev

Ilham Aliyev

President

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Image of Artur Rasizade

Artur Rasizade

Prime Minister

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Political Situation

The president
Azerbaijan has a strong presidential system with a weak separation of powers. The Azerbaijani constitution empowers the president to appoint and dismiss the government. Following the country's independence in 1993, elected President Heydar Aliyev, a former Soviet communist leader, ruled the country with his New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) with strict hand, leaving little room for freedom and democracy. YAP has maintained its absolute majority after the marred 2005 elections. After his resignation, his son Ilham Aliyev became president in October 2003. Although it was expected Ilham Aliyev's policy would change for the better compared to his father’s way of governing, it remained very much the same and no major reshuffles within the government took place. In 2009, following his re-election as president in 2008, Aliyev passed a referendum which removed the presidential consecutive term limit, thereby allowing him to run for president as many times as he wishes. He was re-elected for a third term in 2013. In 2016, as a result of the referendum, the presidential mandate was extended from five to seven years. The president was also granted the right to schedule early presidential elections and dissolve the parliament if twice in one year it adopts no-confidence measures against the government or rejects presidential nominees to the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, or the governing board of Azerbaijani Central Bank.

Government
The political and economic system in Azerbaijan is largely based on a pyramidal web of patronage. Clans, mainly based on regional origin as well as the ruling elite, keep the system intact to secure their financial and power interests. Two clans, the Nakhichevanis and Yerazi, have dominated politics for decades. Heydar Aliyev had his origin in both clans, which gave him a strong powerbase. The Aliyev family stands on the top of the pyramid and makes sure that key-positions in all spheres of society are taken by closely related and like-minded people. This structure has developed into extensive bureaucracy and corruption. Corruption in all spheres of society poses the largest threat to the functioning of the state. Most ministers have bought their jobs and many are directly related to the president. Moreover, membership of the president’s party, YAP, is a precondition for state employment.

Political issues
Human rights organisations and Western governments expressed their concerns about violations in Azerbaijan further during the presidential elections in 2013. International observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) criticised the presidential election for failing to meet international standards. It assessed counting in 58 percent of the polling stations observed as bad or very bad. It also said arrests and intimidation of opposition political activists, a restrictive media environment, and violations of the freedoms of assembly and association marred the pre-election campaign.

There are limitations to freedom of expression and assembly and the rights to liberty and fair trial. The authorities have arrested dozens of political activists on bogus charges, imprisoned critical journalists, broke up several peaceful public demonstrations, and adopted legislation that further restricted fundamental freedoms. Torture and ill-treatment continue with impunity. The authorities did not effectively investigate credible allegations of beatings, threats, and other abuses in custody made by several arrested political activists. There are no legal arrangements for women's participation in politics. The traditional norms in society restrict women’s role in politics. NGO leaders continue to face threats and harassment from the authorities, including raids by security forces, the confiscation of equipment and imposition of travel bans. Online and social media activities critical of the authorities continue to be prosecuted on fabricated charges, typically drugs-related. Independent journalists continue to face threats, violence and harassment. Azerbaijan was ranked 162 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2015 World Press Freedom Index, which shows the media situation is critical and continues to get worse.

The government continued its urban renewal campaign in the capital Baku, forcibly evicting hundreds of families without adequate compensation. Some homeowners continued to face forced eviction in the lead-up to May 2013 opening of central Baku’s Winter Garden, a complex with parks and shops. Hundreds more have been forcibly evicted in previous years to make way for parks, roads, a shopping center, and luxury residential buildings. Most evictees have not received fair compensation based on market values of their properties.

Human Rights violations were also reported from two of the biggest events that took place in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku. In 2012 Azerbaijan hosted the Eurovision Song Contest. Many journalists covering Eurovision reported extensively on the human rights situation in the country, including through interviews with many of those now detained, imprisoned or in hiding. Furthermore, before the 2015 European Games in Baku, organizations and media outlets such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Platform London and The Guardian staff were all prevented from entering Azerbaijan.

Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
This region is the mountainous territory in the west of Azerbaijan inhabited by about 150,000 people. It has been part of Armenia until 1923, when Stalin decided to merge it into the Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan granting the area the status of autonomous region. Nowadays it is an Armenian populated enclave in Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh has been de facto independent from Azerbaijan since the war in the early 90s that ended with a truce signed in 1994, but is not recognised by any country as an independent state. Since then, no peace agreement has been found and the situation is referred to be a “frozen conflict”. As a result of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, an estimated 570,000 displaced persons pose an enormous social problem. The lack of progress in the settling the conflict, occasional violence, and the settlement of ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, indicate that large-scale return of the Azeri fugitives is highly unlikely. Azeri President Ilham Aliyev continues to assert Azerbaijan’s claim with increasing forcefulness as the Nagorno-Karabakh takes almost one-fifth of Azerbaijan’s official territory.

Elections

Electoral System
On the national level Azerbaijan elects a head of state – the president – and a legislature. The head of state and head of government are separate from the country’s law-making body. The president is the head of the state and head of executive branch. The president is elected for a five-year term by the people. The position was limited to two terms, but since 2008, the constitution of Azerbaijan was amended, abolishing any term limit for the office of president. The president appoints all cabinet-level government administrators (ministers, heads of other central executive bodies). The people elect the president; the prime minister is appointed by the president and confirmed by the National Assembly of Azerbaijan.

The National Assembly (Milli Məclis) has 125 deputies. Before 2005, 100 members were elected for a five-year term in single-seat constituencies and 25 members by proportional representation. Since 2005, all 125 members are elected in single-seat constituencies. Azerbaijan is a one party dominant state. Opposition parties beside the New Azerbaijan Party are allowed, but are widely considered to have no real chance of gaining power.

Constitutional referendum of 2009
The presidential term that was prior set to five years and allowed the president to be re-elected solely once, was reviewed by means of a referendum on 18 March 2009. Citizens were consulted on whether President Aliyev should be granted the right to run for an unlimited term starting 2013. Despite opposition calls to boycott the poll, there was a turnout of 71 percent.

92.2 percent voted for scrapping the limit. Prior to the referendum, polls already showed that many citizens would vote “yes” as they see their president as the man that played a crucial role between 2003 and 2007 – a period in which the country's GDP expanded by an average of more than 20 percent per year, making it one of the fastest growing economies worldwide. Supporters said they are committed to democracy, but that abolishing term limits “would help protect the country from political and economic instability". The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe stated, nevertheless, that constitutional amendments violate democractic commitments made by Baku in 2002. According to the president of the congress, by the implementation of the amendments Baku’s delegation jeopardises its CoE membership.


Parliamentary elections

On 1 November 2015 parliamentary elections were held in Azerbaijan. Almost all opposition parties withdrew from the elections before they even started because of restrictive measures, including increased requirements that have restricted free air time on TV that only the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) meets. Election day proceeded calmly and the official voter turnout was 55 percent.

The full results were announced one day after the elections. Aliyev’s New Azerbaijan party (YAP) held its 71 seats in the 125 seat parliament. Independent candidates with no party affiliation gained 42 seats, although they are expected to vote along with the YAP, giving Aliyev effective control over the parliament. The 12 remaining seats were split over 11 smaller parties. In total 27 new MPs were elected into parliament. 11 of the current MPs are so-called “MPs for life” because they have occupied their seats since Azerbaijan’s independence in 1991.

Ahead of the elections the OSCE announced it would for the first time not observe the elections, because the regime made it “impossible for the mission to carry out effective and credible election observation”.  The European Parliament also decided not to send any observers. The elections were observed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), that said that “despite shortcomings, the significant increase in voter turnout and the transparency of voting and counting procedures demonstrate another step forward” for the country. PACE had a limited team observe the election and many have criticized its positive assessment. After the publication of the PACE mission, three delegates with PACE said in a statement that “the situation in the country with respect to political freedoms, freedom of expression and media, and freedom of assembly and association does not provide conditions for holding free and democratic elections.”

Election results

Party Number of seats
 New Azerbaijan Party  71
 United Azerbaijan Popular Front  2
 Azerbaijan Democratic Reforms Party  1
 Great Liberation Party  1
 National Revival Movement  1
 Azerbaijan Social Democrat Party  1
 Motherland Party  1
 Unity Party  1
 Azerbaijan Democratic Enlightenment Party  1
 Azerbaijan Social Welfare Party  1
 Civil Union Party  1
 Civil Solidarity Party  1
 Independent MPs  42

Presidential elections

On 9 October 2013, presidential elections were held in Azerbaijan, in which Aliyev was re-elected as President. His main contestant was Jamil Hasanli, who represented nearly all of the country’s opposition parties, including Musavat and the Azerbaijan Popular Front, in a newly formed opposition coalition called the National Council of Democratic Forces.

Election results

Candidate Party Votes %
 Ilham Aliyev  Yeni (New) Azerbaijan party  84,55 %
 Jamil Hasanli  National Council of Democratic Forces              5,53 %
 Iqbal Agazade  Umid (Hope) Party  2,40 %
 Qudrat Hasanguliyev  Unified Popular Front Party  1,99 %
 Zahid Oruc  Independent candidate  1,45 %
 Ilyas Ismayilov  Adalet Party  1,07 %
 Araz Alizade  Social Democratic Party  0,87 %
 Farac Quliyev  National Revival Movement  0,86 %
 Hafiz Haciyev  Modern Musavat  0,66 %
 Sardar Calaloglu  Democratic Party of Azerbaijan  0,61 %

 
Run up to the elections
In the run up of the poll the opposition was facing many difficulties in campaigning. Due to the formula of the Central Election Commission for structuring all election commissions, the pro-government forces obtained since the beginning a de facto majority, the OSCE noted. Ten candidates were registered for the election of which only Jamil Hasanli represented viable opposition. Four were denied registration. In the months ahead of the election there was a great lack of press freedom and human rights were still often violated with journalists being imprisoned on what is widely seen as trumped-up charges. Continued allegations of candidate and voter intimidation and a restrictive media environment marred the campaign. Human Rights Watch released a report in September, stating the authorities of Azerbaijan were responsible for a crackdown on journalists and a "dramatic deterioriation" of freedom of expression, assembly and association. It adds that the authorities had arrested dozens of political activists on "bogus charges", imprisoned critical journalists, and broken up peaceful public demonstrations.

Despite these violations, 2013 marked the first time Azerbaijan’s opposition presented a united front. The National Council of Democratic Forces was first represented by  filmmaker Rustam Ibragimbekov, who was well known on the world stage. Ibragimbekov was, however, denied registration as candidate due to his dual citizenship (Azerbaijan and Russia) and was replaced by the lesser-known Jamil Hasanli.

Election day and aftermath
During election day several opposition activists circulated photos and videos appearing to show cases of ‘carousel voting’, where voters are bused in groups from one polling station to another in an effort to cast numerous ballots – though these could not be verified. The OSCE stated that a high number of observers assessed the situation in polling stations on election day as negative, with significant problems in the opening, voting and counting procedures. They reported clear indications of ballot box stuffing in 37 polling stations, and the counting was assessed negatively in an unprecedented 58 percent of the stations observed.

Political parties

Social Democratic Parties

Social Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (SDPA)

Party Leader: Araz Alizadeh and Ayaz Mutalibov

Number of seats: 1

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Other Parties

Logo of New Azerbaijan Party

New Azerbaijan Party (YAP)

Party Leader: Ilham Aliyev

Number of seats: 71

http://www.yap.org.az/en/

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Logo of Motherland Party (Ana Vatan)

Motherland Party (Ana Vatan) (AV)

Party Leader: Fazail Agamali

Number of seats: 1

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Logo of Equality Party (Musavat)

Equality Party (Musavat)

Party Leader: Arif Hacili

http://musavat.org.az/

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Logo of Azerbaijan Popular Front

Azerbaijan Popular Front (AHCP)

Party Leader: Ali Kerimli

http://www.axcp-az.org/

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Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP)

Party Leader: Ehtibar Mamedov

http://web.archive.org/web/20130703051830/http://amip.az

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Logo of Azerbaijan Democratic Party

Azerbaijan Democratic Party (ADP)

Party Leader: Sardar Jalaloglu

http://adp-muxalifet.blogspot.nl/

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Logo of Civic Solidarity Party

Civic Solidarity Party (VHP)

Party Leader: Sabir Rustamkhanli

Number of seats: 1

http://vhp.az/

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Yurddash Party (YP)

Party Leader: Mais Safarli

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Biographies

Image of Ilham Aliyev

Ilham Aliyev

President

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Image of Artur Rasizade

Artur Rasizade

Prime Minister

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Image of Arif Hajili

Arif Hajili

Leader of Musavat

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Image of Ali Kerimli

Ali Kerimli

Leader of Popular Front of Azerbaijan

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Sources

Country and regional reports:

Clans and corruption:

Elections:

Human rights:

Internally Displaced Persons: 

Nagorno Karabakh: 

Politics:

Religion and the state:

Repeat elections 13 May 2006:

Relations with neighbouring countries:

Foreign relations: