The president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, quietly initiated preparations for a snap presidential election that might take place before the end of this year.
In a speech given during the opening of the October 7 government meeting dedicated to the results of socio-economic development over the past nine months, Aliyev made severe attacks on the West, voicing a list of grievances, including the use of double-standards in its attitude towards Azerbaijan, the Islamic world and Arab refugees.
The topic of his introductory speech was in no way tied with the topic of the government meeting, having nothing to say about the poor results of the past nine months, and turned into a sort of message to world-wide democracy regarding the fact that the Azerbaijani regime would prefer at this stage of development to maintain its distance, which at the moment will have to limit itself to elements of cooperation, but not integrative processes.
Beginning with the presidential elections of 2008, which opened the way to his unlimited rule later down the line, experience has shown that Aliyev intensifies his criticism of the West on the eve of significant elections and referendums, with the goal of minimizing the participation of Western institutes in observing and undermining the voting results, and also to minimize their support for the opposition and for civil society. This is the way things were in the run-up to the September 26 referendum, which has legitimized his rule for the next seven years and assigns him even greater powers and responsibilities.
Strange as it may seem at first glance, this sort of isolationist position held by Aliyev strikes a chord in the opposition camp of international democracy, which, reacting to the undemocratic nature of the process, expresses the surprise expected of it in merely a soft and formal way, but no more. This manifested itself particularly clearly on the eve of and after the most recent referendum, which speaks to the fact that this is opening the way to serious structural and politico-economic changes that are agreed with in the West. (This is evidenced by the fact that the USA and its allies ceased putting strong pressure on Aliyev to reform the system, immediately after the July 18 announcement regarding the referendum for changes to the constitution, expanding the president’s powers).
This line of action will indisputably continue in the coming presidential election and the very electoral process will practically become a technical procedure, but in no way a political contest between various groups of the government and opposition.
The West is comfortable with Aliyev’s activity in his post as President, despite his anti-Western statements and oppression of opposition voices. During the period of his rule, he made significant links with Europe, supporting strategic European Union energy, pipeline, and transport projects, making the West Azerbaijan’s primary economic partner. If we take into account that the energy sector is Azerbaijan’s base, then it’s not difficult to notice where exactly Azerbaijan has been integrated, even with all of Aliyev’s anti-Western rhetoric.
It’s no secret that various parties are working intensively towards further reform of the post-Soviet system in Azerbaijan and preparing a large packet of reforms that should be launched in the near future. In fact, both the referendum and the elections that are to follow it are component parts of this program of reforms, which is sanctioned by the parties involved. Aliyev and his Western partners haven’t yet revealed the roadmap of coming changes, limiting themselves to leaking doses of information that form only a weak outline of the changes. Aliyev’s speech at the end of the meeting, which also never touched on the results of the past nine months, can be counted among these. The president dedicated this closing part to future projects, first and foremost in the agricultural sector. It was clear from his speech that what’s being discussed are separate, large-scale projects for development in each branch of agriculture, whereas the European Union just a short time before already began implementing programs to support the development of private producers.
In fact, reform of Azerbaijan’s non-oil sectors in conditions of a long-term reduction of the influence ofh the energy sector on the country’s economy is becoming unavoidable for the regime, and can be said to be the second most important program for Azerbaijan’s integration with the West, second only to the start of implementation of the Contract of the Century, which was signed in 1994. At the government meeting, Aliyev practically admitted the difficult situation of the Azerbaijani economy, this time moving away from his tactic of juggling statistical data that, by any definition, paint a sad picture of the situation.
Despite all the anti-Western rhetoric, Azerbaijan is left with no other option than to further integrate with the European region. As mentioned previously, this is evidenced by intensive negotiations with international financial institutes regarding support for the reforms in Azerbaijan, which have already entered their final stages regarding the key questions of the country’s further integration into the world and, first and foremost, Western economy with all its resulting political ramifications.