Ilham Aliyev and his team’s main achievement is that they have strengthened the country’s political system and democratic institutions. Anti-Russian sentiments have no deep roots in Azerbaijan and only surface during elections. Radical nationalists have been trying hard to find fault with Russia, but the only sin they can blame it for is unwillingness to use Azerbaijani solutions in Nagorny Karabakh.
After the amendments to the Azeri Constitution were approved by the referendum of March 18, 2009, Ilham Aliyev, the current president of Azerbaijan, became eligible for re-election. The overwhelming majority of people, 92% of the 77% turnout, voted in favor of the changes.
As a result, the current elections are proceeding in a legitimate manner, without any of the major violations which are a routine headache for many countries, including such long-time democracies as France and Italy. Officially, all voters in Azerbaijan have been granted equal conditions for taking part in the elections, but from events in Russia, we know what actually happens in practice.
I would argue that Ilham Aliyev and his team’s main achievement is that they have strengthened the country’s political system and democratic institutions and have created an effective system of government, ensuring Azerbaijan’s high competitiveness in regional affairs and leadership in the South Caucasus. The socioeconomic model which Aliyev is developing will facilitate the transition of Azeri society to a new political plane, where the authorities and the opposition will coexist in an atmosphere of constructive rivalry.
The leadership of the country has also introduced a new ideological understanding of “Azerbaijan-ness” to the country’s political system. The idea is based on national interests and was developed during the presidency of Ilham’s father, Heydar Aliyev, to protect the country from attempts to weaken it spiritually and physically, and at the same time to strengthen it as a unitary and democratic rule-of-law state. Consolidation, as a strategy for national survival, development and prosperity, provides stability to the mechanism of state administration and helps develop rules of conduct that express the interests of the entire society.
Economic and foreign policy achievements, although important, are derivatives of a stronger political system. The key aspects of Ilham Aliyev’s foreign policy are pragmatism, a systemic approach and a thorough multidisciplinary analysis of all the possible consequences of planned actions. These elements permeate all aspects of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy, including energy issues. Likes and dislikes are not political instruments, and Azerbaijan has been adhering to this principle without exception.
As for its relations with Russia, anti-Russian sentiments have no deep roots in Azerbaijan and only surface during elections. Radical nationalists have been trying hard to find fault with Russia, but the only sin they can blame it for is unwillingness to use Azerbaijani solutions in Nagorny Karabakh. In election periods, Azerbaijani experts and the opposition usually accuse Russia of “trying to interfere in its neighbor’s domestic affairs,” but there are few, if any, solid grounds for these accusations.
In addition, rivalry between Russian government companies, primarily energy companies, and their partners in Azerbaijan can certainly affect bilateral relations. But these problems are usually resolved within the framework of the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Issues, although sometimes they require the attention of the countries’ leaders, who usually reach a compromise.