Wednesday, January 25

Short update on Azerbaijan (written for a separate publication, reposting here)

On September 26, 2016 Azerbaijan confirmed the adoption of 29 constitutional amendments, strengthening the power vested in the hands of the ruling regime. Similar to previous elections, September Referendum took place not without election fraud and violations. Videos, interviews, and independent reporting documenting these violations was swept under the carpet as per business as usual. As a result next presidential elections in Azerbaijan will take place in 2020 rather than in 2018 as the presidential term limit were extended from 5 to 7 years. Among other changes are right granted to the incumbent president to call for early elections; dissolve the parliament; and appoint a first vice president who would replace the current president as his constitutional successor. In addition, minimum age for running in parliamentary and presidential elections was reduced to 18 years of age and so on. In a statement issued by the Venice Commission "proposed amendments would severely upset the balance of power by giving unprecedented powers to the president". 

Ali Hasanov, presidential aide described the changes as necessary in order for the government to work more efficiently. For those familiar with this small nation on the shores of the Caspian and rich in energy resources, official Baku already had all the powers it needed to run a country already constrained by corruption, appalling press freedom and human rights record. On January 24, court sentenced independent journalist Rovshan Mammadov to 30 days of administrative detention. Earlier, court sentenced member of youth organization N!DA to a similar charge while fining popular citizen journalist and blogger Mehman Huseynov for allegedly resisting police. Court in Baku in addition sentenced to other members of N!DA movement to ten years in jail on bogus drug possession charges while many critics of the regime saw this sentence as a grave punishment for the two men drawing graffiti on the statue of the late presindent on Flower day, which is know to celebrate late President, Heydar Aliyev's birthday. In addition to the case of Rovshan Mammadov and Mehman Huseynov, at least five other journalists have been arrested or detained by the authorities in recent months including Afgan Sadygov; Zamin Haji, Ikram Rahimov, Fikret Faramazoglu, and Teymur Kerimov according to monitoring by press freedom watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists. 

In the meantime the country witnessed second devaluation and price hikes, which according to the country's independent economists are direct result of mismanagement of the country's economy including wrong economic policies of diversification, presence of monopolies, and rampant corruption. Just weeks ahead of the September Referendum, Bloomberg reported about a halt in foreign currency sales as local currency manat continued to depreciate while demand by businesses and households soared. 

Overall, given the circumstances, there is little space for positive projection for 2017 as restrained conditions remain across the country and regime in Baku continues to push for its personal gains over country wide and much needed and long time overdue reforms.

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