Azerbaijan is striving for a new start

Azerbaijan is striving for a new start

Azerbaijan – a country with a Soviet past – has emerged as one of the key players in global energy politics after re-gaining its independence in 1991. Following the successful completion of regional energy projects like the pipelines Baku-Tbilisi-Jeyhan, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum, and the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) which reshaped in a way the energy landscape of the wider region, this easternmost south Caucasus Republic charted a course in pursuit of economic development that would enable it not only to recover from the post Soviet economic crisis relatively quickly but also to transform it into one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

Writing by Penny Papadopoulou in London

However, as the uncertainty and disruption caused by the recent global pandemic and the profound changes in the economic landscape resulting from it have highlighted, economies cannot solely rely on the revenues from energy resources. Therefore, there is a growing need for Azerbaijan to focus on diversification efforts in order to meet the new challenges and achieve a more resilient economic performance.

Azerbaijan clearly acknowledges this necessity to improve the current business environment and take real steps to reform the country's institutions. President Ilham Aliyev notably asserted that "there is no alternative to reforms" and appeared determine to work on achieving structural transformations for sustainable economic development as well as proceed with the transition of government management to the younger, Western-educated generation.

Indeed, since 2018, structural transformations have been evolving in different forms in almost every sphere. Young, dynamic and ambitious people have been appointed to senior positions in order to strengthen governing institutions, simplify procedures and improve efficiency and transparency. These transformations led the World Bank to bump Azerbaijan to 25th place in its 2019 "Ease of Doing Business" index from 57th place the year before.

In December 2019, the National Assembly of Azerbaijan approved the proposal to dissolve, paving the way for snap parliamentary elections. The proposal aimed to support President Aliyev's policy on modernisation and personnel changes. The elections were held on February 9th, 2020 with the participation of 19 political parties and with extensive monitoring by both local and international observers.

"I was fascinated to learn that once a vote has been cast, the individual is then marked with an invisible ink so that if they try to vote again, they can be identified as having already voted", British MP Bob Blackman said in remarks quoted by the website PoliticsHome.

Voter turnout was 47.81 percent of the country's 5,329,461 eligible voters. The ruling New Azerbaijan Party won the elections after securing 70 national assembly seats, representing 56 percent of the vote. Independent candidates secured 41 seats while opposition candidates won 10 seats.

This election also gave Azerbaijan its first female Speaker of Parliament. Legislator Sahiba Gafarova became the first woman to hold the position in the history of the Republic. Gafarova, a former Vice Rector of Baku Slavic University, served in the past as PACE General Rapporteur on violence against women – the first woman representing her country in the PACE bureau – and chaired the gender equality, racism and xenophobia subcommittees.

"She is true to her word with an extensive experience in international parliamentary activities", the Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the UK, Tahir Taghizade, said, while the Azerbaijani MP, Javanshir Feyziyev, described her as a politician who "has always given support and services to the best interests of promoting bilateral Azerbaijan – UK ties".

The Land of Fire - as Azerbaijan is known - had long cherished its status as the first Muslim nation to give the vote to women when it introduced universal suffrage more than a century ago. Today's Azerbaijan is reshaping itself by making the economy more attractive and by building well functioning institutions. Notwithstanding, the political and economic challenges surrounding Aliyev's new rules of the road, a successfully modernisation will lead to visible improvements for the country's population. This will be the main argument against those who oppose a major shift and meaningful change.

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