Azerbaijan, located in the South Caucasus region that connects Eastern Europe to Central Asia, is one of the most significant geopolitical pivots of Eurasia. Due to its geography, Azerbaijan has a sensitive location that commenced itself as a defensive armour for the Caspian Sea holds the strength to open or block the access to various significant extra-regional actors, oil and gas desiring. Azerbaijan’s capital city of Baku positioned east along the coastline of the Caspian Sea, is where the country's economic, political and demographic resources are concentrated.
Baku's strategic place in the global geopolitics of energy is also increasing consistently due to its "Southern Gas Corridor" in contrast to the instability rising in the Middle East. Although the country has no ocean access, it is recognized as the regional balancing power, having boarder links to Russia, Iran, and Turkey. Though, surrounded by larger powers the country must manoeuvre carefully in order to preserve its independence and straighten its position as a strong regional actor.
Currently, Azerbaijan is heading towards its Parliamentary Elections, which are going to be held on 9th February 2020. The expected snap parliamentary elections will likely launch a new democratic era in Azerbaijan, giving the voters a further possibility to advance the reform process. The process for parliamentary elections has set in motion when the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) called for the dissolution of the Parliament on 2nd December 2019, which would pave the way for early elections. This has provided a positive step towards the modernization of the country's legislative branch and to speed up the course of economic reforms as well. Several analysts are observing this development as the Parliament's response to the reform agenda led by the President of the Azerbaijani Republic, Ilham Aliyev. The ambitious reforms ahead of Azerbaijan's political stratagem can only be put in place by a new dynamic, modem and learned generation of experts.
Parliamentary elections are going to be held in Azerbaijan to elect 125 members of the “Milli Majlis”, the country's "unicameral" parliament. Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission (CEC) has taken all necessary steps for candidates to carry out a pre-election campaign on equal terms. For this purpose, open and closed places have allotted in all constituencies have all the necessary requirements, following the mandatory procedure of the Electoral Code. These places have been allocated to the candidates to meet their voters so the voters may choose the most deserving candidate for their representation in the parliament.
Outdoor and indoor premises have been allocated. The process of issuing absentee ballots by the relevant precinct election commissions to voters has been launched in connection with the parliamentary elections 2020. According to its electoral code, all the candidates and political parties will have 23 days for official campaigning, in the period immediately before Election Day.
The Azerbaijani Central Election Commission (CEC) also held a seminar on considering complaints related to the violation of electoral rights regarding the coming elections, and independent Media Center has been established by Azerbaijan's CEC on 18th January aimed to make the registration process transparent. Azerbaijan, while incorporated with the international standard of electioneering has invited various international organizations for observing the transparency and approximately, 81 international observers have been accredited in the parliamentary elections.
President Aliyev’s Reforms Initiatives
Azerbaijan has been revolutionized by the constant structural reforms. In this contemporary era, where the socio-economic dynamism takes centre stage in Central Asia and the Caucasus, the old-fashioned bureaucracies and entrenched power structures dating back to the Soviet time are no longer sustainable. In order to reduce the country's dependence on oil, socio-economic, socio-political, and institutional reforms are required to better respond to the population's needs.
The era of President Aliyev in the office is marked by overcoming major political and economic challenges, achieving economic expansion and steady growth. During the last few months of his Presidency, the focus has been shifted to modernization and structural reforms in state institutions and policies. Predominantly, serious efforts have been made to combat corruption.
As part of this reform process, important changes have been implemental in the customs and taxation fields to tackle with monopolies and to equalize the regulatory playing fields for importing and exporting businesses.
The customs system is modernized with a transparent electronic customs declaration process, thus eliminating the intermediary of the Customs Committee for duty collection. On the other hand, taxation procedures are updated to fully comply with major global transparency indexes following successful reforms in the field of taxation. The new functions have also introduced, coaling taxation and privatization of state properties, which is expected to accelerate the privatization of numerous state companies while attracting foreign investments in the upcoming years.
At the same time, “Industrial parks" and “Free Trade Zones" have been created, giving tax incentives, such as a seven-year tax-free regime, to foreign investors. Moreover, "Special Economic Zones", such as the new Baku port of Mat, operate under British law in which all businesses in the zone are exempt from duties and taxes. These positive advancements have been recently recognized by the World Bank’s Doing Business Index, where Azerbaijan's position raised from 57th to 25th place during 2001-2019.
President Ilham Aliyev has determined that a major state policy goal should be to make use of the country's transit potential, pointing to the Baku Sea Port as a key strategic projects in the diversification of economy, which is set to become one of Azerbaijan's main investment projects in the non-oil sector generating the second greatest share of budget revenues.
Moreover, President Aliyev signed a verdict of judicial reforms in April 2019, urged for the rapid execution of focused reforms to counter corruption in the legal system and increasing transparency and consistency of judicial processes. These developments will optimistically launch a new democratic era of transition and transformation in Azerbaijan, giving the voters a further opportunity to advance the reform process in the coming parliamentary elections by using their right to vote for the most deserving candidate.
The diversification of the economy and the state program has introduced during 2014-2018 entitled as the socio-economic development of regions of Azerbaijan has made a huge contribution to the non-oil sector, due to its potential for production of non-oil products concentrated in the regions of Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan is one of the few countries that submitted two National Reports to the United Nations that explained the efforts made by Azerbaijan's government to achieve the UN global goals, set before 2030. The country outlined its main policy goals until 2030 to ensure the national development program, aligned with the strategy defined by the UN.
The socioeconomic indicators are positive and economic growth has been secured in Azerbaijan during a few past years. The economic growth in the non-oil sector has exceeded 3%. This advocates that the diversification measures are bearing fruit. At the same time, agricultural development has been identified as a priori-re area.
The external public debt is at a very low level, as it accounts for only 17 % of the gross domestic product (GDP). The inflation rate is very truncated around 2 per cent. A large-scale social package has implemented this year which improved the financial situation of more than 4.2 million people, due to the result of an increased ratio of pension, salaries and other necessary benefits. The role of the press is also admirable in the election scenario, covering the entire electoral process freely and independently.
The systematic and efficient policy reforms receive a positive attitude and outcome from the people of Azerbaijan. Therefore, the renewed Azerbaijani parliament will be imperative support to ensure the systemic development and prosperity of the country. It is a milestone event that a great number of young people, public figures and activists are participating in the current elections. Moreover, the elections to be held in Azerbaijan will once again ratify that the ongoing process in the country is democratic and transparent. The upcoming elections will open up an opportunity for the people to elect the most active and promising candidates who will contribute to steering reforms in the country.
Khalid Taimur Akram, Executive Director, Center for Global and Strategic Studies (CGSS), Islamabad.