By special correspondent, Baku:-
The recent global pandemic Covid19 and its sharp economic consequences, as well as periodic global energy fluctuations prove, the economies cannot solely rely on the revenues from energy resources and there is a growing need for Azerbaijan to focus on diversification efforts to meet the new challenge and achieve resilient economic performance.
Azerbaijan – a country with a Soviet past – after re-gaining its independence in 1991 has emerged as one of the key players in global energy politics. Azerbaijan has been successfully implementing regional energy projects like Baku-Tbilisi-Jeyhan, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum, and Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) which in a way reshaped the energy landscape of the wider region.
These projects which are pursued in line with the economic policy of the government enabled Azerbaijan to recover from post-Soviet economic crisis relatively quickly and in a better shape. By 2007, Azerbaijan had already become one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.
Azerbaijan clearly acknowledges this necessity and as the President Aliyev remarked in one of his speeches, “sees no alternative to reforms” on the way to achieve sustainable economic development. President Aliyev, following his re-election in 2018, has redoubled efforts on reform agenda which already bears its fruit nowadays.
It goes without saying that reform policies necessitate structural transformations and viable reforms can only be executed by skillful managers and institutions re-adapted to ever-changing economic conditions. Indeed, since 2018, structural transformations have been on-going almost in every sphere. Some institutions have been re-organized to fit their purpose while talented, skillful, Western-educated young people have been appointed to senior positions in the government. Unsurprisingly, these rapid reforms have received recognition by international institutions as the country has stepped up in the rankings of World Bank, Davos Forum and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. It is now considered to be one of the fastest reforming countries in the world which stands at 25th place in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 report.
In this sense, snap parliamentary elections constituted one of the most important pillars of the reforms implemented in the country. On November 28, last year, for the first time in the country’s history, Azerbaijani parliament asked to be dissolved as it could no longer fully catch up with the government’s reform efforts. Azerbaijan’s Constitutional Court ruled in favour of the dissolution and the Head of State signed a decree to hold early snap elections on February 9, 2020.
Azerbaijan invited many international organizations and institutions to observe the elections. Of all the record high of 1314 candidates participating in the elections, 80 percent were independent with no party affiliation and 21 percent accounted for female candidates. The fact that 19 political parties took part at election process highlighted diversity of political climate in the country. On the Election Day, the voter turnout amounted to 47.81 percent (2,242,092 voters) out of 5,329,461 voters. As many as 5426 permanent polling stations operated in 125 constituencies of the country. Some 77790 local and more than 880 international observers representing 58 countries and 59 organizations monitored the election process. More than 130 international media outlets from 47 countries covered the process. As a result of the elections, ruling New Azerbaijan Party won 70 seats in the Milli Majlis, parliament of Azerbaijan, independent candidates won 41 seats, while 10 seats were taken by the opposition. Young parliamentarians took up 22 seats in the new parliament.
After the elections, the country which is well known for being the first Muslim nation to grant the women voting right more than a century ago chose its first female speaker of the parliament in the country’s independent history. Born in 1955, Mrs. Sahiba Gafarova, the new speaker, has worked about 40 years at Baku Slavic University. In 2000-2004 she was dean of the faculty of Western European languages and Head of the department of English philology at Western University, then a vice-rector for international relations of Baku Slavic University in 2004-2020. In 2006-2007 worked at the Institute for Women’s and Gender Studies of the Michigan University in the framework of the Fulbright scholarship of the US Department of State. She is the author of several books, publications and over 100 articles published in both national and international media.
Since 2010, she has served as member of the parliament. As a long-standing member of Azerbaijan’s delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Mrs. Gafarova has also served as the very first chairwoman of the PACE committee from Azerbaijan, chairing the Committee on migration, refugees and displaced persons and as the very first woman representing her country in the PACE Bureau for 2 years. Her name has been moved forward by the European Conservatives Group where majority belonged to the UK Delegation.
In 2013-2015, she chaired the Gender equality and Racism and xenophobia subcommittees of the PACE, from 2015 to 2017 served as a Political coordinator of the “Women free from Violence” Parliamentary network and Special rapporteur on Violence against women at the PACE.
“As a member of Azerbaijan – UK parliamentary working group as well as being a member of the parliamentary cooperation committee with the European Parliament, Mrs. Gafarova has always given support and services to the best interests of promoting bilateral Azerbaijan – UK ties” noted Javanshir Feyziyev, member of Azerbaijani parliament.
In his remarks on the election of Mrs. Gafarova as speaker of parliament, Azerbaijani Ambassador to the United Kingdom, H.E. Tahir Taghizade noted: “Sahiba Gafarova has always been one of my primary points of contact both during my time in Prague and London. She is mobile, true to her word with an extensive experience in international parliamentary activities.”
Diverse political representation in the newly elected parliament is also true about the election of new vice speakers. The first vice speaker and two other vice speakers represent all political fractions in the parliament – ruling New Azerbaijan Party, non-partisan group and the minority opposition parties. Out of 30 parliamentary chairmanships and vice-chairmanships, 14 positions are occupied by non-partisan and opposition MPs.
Bob Blackman, a member of the House of Commons and a member of the international observation team from UK shares his opinion on the advancement of the election process in Azerbaijan in his article published at PoliticsHome: “During my recent visit I was particularly surprised by the method by which Azerbaijan has chosen to deal with the issue. 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. The United Kingdom could take note of this policy and certainly look at discussing developing and implementing its own similar policy.”
Jonathan Fryer, another member of the international observer mission from UK writes: “The process here in Baku is extremely well-organized and calmly efficient. There has been a good steady trickle of voters this morning; despite the bitter wind (snow has so far held off). The polling clerks and presiding officers could not have been more welcoming and helpful… One marked contrast with other election situations I have monitored,… is that there are literally thousands of local election observers, some representing parties, others NGOs and so forth, quietly sitting in a line behind tables inside the polling stations, watching what is going on…”