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Azerbaijan Politics

State and politics

Azerbaijan declared independence from the Soviet Union on August 30, 1991, and independence gained legal force October 18, the same year. Also see AbbreviationFinder for abbreviation of AZ and its meanings of Azerbaijan.

Government and Politics of Azerbaijan

Through its geographical location at the intersection of Europe and Asia, Azerbaijan balances between the three expansive neighboring countries Turkey, the Russian Federation and Iran, which dominated the area for various periods. Ethnically and linguistically, the country is mainly part of the Turkish sphere, while there are more Azeris in popular Iran than in Azerbaijan. As in Iran, the majority of the population is Shi'ite Muslims, while the legacy of the Soviet Union period has given Azerbaijan the character of a secular state with modern institutions.

The economy is dependent on the large oil and gas resources, which provided relatively prosperity early on. However, income has been distributed unevenly and society has been eroded by growing corruption, at the same time as power has developed in an autocratic direction and increasingly concentrated with the ruling clan Alijev.

Since the 1990s, a conflict has been going on with neighboring Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. This, despite mediation efforts by, among others, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), has remained unsolved.

GOVERNMENT

A new constitution was adopted after a referendum in November 1995. The constitution gave the president a particularly strong position as head of state and commander-in-chief with the right to appoint the prime minister and other members of government. This position has since been further strengthened by constitutional changes in 2009 and 2016.

The President also appoints the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Constitutional Court. Other judges in the Constitutional Court and all judges in the Supreme Court are nominated by the President but must then be approved by Parliament.

The term of office of the President is seven years. Since 2009, a president can be re-elected an unlimited number of times. The nine judges in the Constitutional Court are appointed for 15 years, the highest 25 members of the Supreme Court for 10 years.

Parliament, milli majlis, has a chamber of 125 members, elected for five years by majority vote in one-man constituencies. Parliament does not form a government, but the cabinet appointed by the president must be approved by Parliament. The President may veto Parliament's decisions. To abolish such a veto requires 95 votes.

In the last parliamentary elections on February 9, 2020, 21 women were elected, corresponding to just under 17 percent. Female suffrage was introduced after independence in 1918, when Azerbaijan became the world's first Muslim-majority republic.

Policy

During the first 18 months after independence in 1991, two presidents, Ayaz Mutalibov and Abulfaz Eltjibej, were forced to resign following military losses in the war on Nagorno-Karabakh. Subsequently, Gejdar Alijev (Head of State 1993-2003) took office, who had acquired a unique influence already when he was promoted to secretary of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee in 1969. After being head of the Soviet security service KGB in Azerbaijan, Alijev was assigned to deal with corruption in the republic.

The executives who were dismissed and in some cases sentenced were replaced by Alijev's confidants. With this base he had a strong grip on the country already when he was called in the parliament in 1993 and then was elected president. Despite his background in the Soviet Communist Party, Alijev developed a nationalist policy, which at the same time sought good relations with the regional powers of Turkey, Iran and the Russian Federation.

After his death in 2003, Gejdar Alijev was succeeded in the presidential post by his son Ilham Alijev (born 1961), despite protests from the political forces that wanted to avoid Azerbaijan's reign in dynastic rule. After the Constitution's statute that a president may sit for a maximum of two terms of office was voted off in 2009, Ilham Alijev was re-elected in 2013 for a third presidential term. He received just under 85 percent of the vote in an election that had been preceded by an increasingly intense campaign to silence independent media and opposition political activities.

Through another constitutional referendum in 2016, the president's powers were further expanded; the mandate was extended from five to seven years and the age limit for presidential candidates was abolished. According to the opposition, the latter was a measure to enable Ilham Alijev's son to take over power at a later stage. In the same referendum, another constitutional change was approved, which means that two vice presidents are appointed by the president. Thereby, a president who becomes ill or dies during the term of office is no longer succeeded by the prime minister but by a vice president. In 2017, Alijev appointed his wife Mehriban Alijeva (born 1964) as the first vice president.

In the 2018 presidential election, Aliyev was re-elected for a fourth term, this time with 86 percent of the vote. The opposition boycotted the election, but participation was still high. Western observers have judged that the 2013 and 2018 presidential elections violated democratic standards on a number of points.

Is dominated by the loyal New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) and other forces loyal to the President; In the 2020 elections, YAP received 69 of the 125 seats in Parliament.

International relations

The unresolved conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh has continued to characterize the country's politics. A series of summits between Ilham Aliyev and the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (born 1975) after his entry in the spring of 2018 led to a period of tensions, but, in addition to establishing a communication line between the two armies, has not led to any concrete progress. Since the second half of the 1990s, Azerbaijan's army has undergone extensive renovation; in 2013, an agreement was signed for the purchase of military equipment from the Russian Federation for 4 billion US dollars.

Azerbaijan's foreign policy is characterized by a balancing act between the expansive neighboring countries Turkey, Iran and the Russian Federation. The country was one of the initiators of the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in December 1991, but left the organization in October 1992 to re-join in September 1993.

Since the late 1990s, relations with the Russian Federation have once again become colder, partly as a result of Russian support for Armenia. Another factor in this picture is that Azerbaijan strives for good relations with the western countries, which are dependent on the extensive exploitation of oil resources in the Caspian Sea and the export of oil and gas.

Azerbaijan has been cooperating with NATO since 2005 in the framework of a so-called Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP). The EU is negotiating with Azerbaijan under the Eastern Partnership. A partnership and cooperation agreement was signed in 1996, which was followed in 2006 by a strategic partnership agreement in the energy area. Since President Alijev's visit to Brussels in 2017, negotiations have been underway for a more in-depth agreement, which, however, presupposes that Azerbaijan lives up to the partnership's principles of in-depth democracy.

Judiciary

As a Soviet republic, Azerbaijan had a judiciary where the courts were independent. The rule of law was inadequate, and the courts were also an instrument of political leadership. Local party and state agencies intervened in the courts' work. In the Soviet debate, this was called "telephone law". The situation did not change immediately after independence after 1991. The legislative power is to be exercised by Milli Madzjlis instead of the previously elected Supreme Soviet, whose activities have been suspended. A new constitution was adopted in November 1995. The change process is assumed to be slow before any decisive change is expected. Azerbaijan is still far from any rule of law. The death penalty was abolished in 1998; the last execution took place in 1993.

Human Rights

Respect for human rights in Azerbaijan has deteriorated during the 2010s. Several peaceful protests against the regime have been broken up with violence by police and government representatives in order to keep the political opposition in check. Reports show that excessive violence, water cannons and tear gas have been used against the protesters on numerous occasions.

Deficiencies have also been identified in the government's mission to investigate credible allegations of abuse, threats and other abuses against oppositionists, who are said to have been executed in the detention center. Impunity is widespread for police and security services who are accused of abuse.

Political demonstrations are essentially prohibited. Foreign press must not operate in the country and domestic journalism is tightly controlled. In Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, the country was ranked 166 out of 180 in 2019, a slightly worse position than the previous years. The fact that critical scrutiny and opposition have been silenced has made it easier for corruption to gain a foothold in society. In 2019, Azerbaijan was ranked 126 out of 180 on Transparency International's corruption index.

A ban from 2010 on the use of Islamic headscarves at schools and universities affects many girls and women who are absent from education as a result. Violence and sexual violence against women, especially women in rural areas, are reported to be widespread but are rarely reported due to low confidence in law enforcement agencies.

Childcare is permitted within the walls of the home for educational purposes but prohibited in schools and other public contexts. According to UN reports, human trafficking in children for sexual exploitation occurs.

Heads of State

Presidents

1991-92 Ajaz Mutalibov
1992-93 Abulfaz Eltjibej
1993-2003 Gejdar Alijev
2003- Ilham Alijev
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