Ilham Aliyev has taken over from his father, Heidar, as Azerbaijan's president, promising to keep current policies intact. Following his inauguration, Ilham expressed willingness to engage opposition leaders in a political dialogue. At the same time, a crackdown on opposition activists, unleashed after the controversial presidential vote, is continuing.
In his October 31 inauguration address, Ilham offered extend praise for Azerbaijan's economic achievements during his father's presidential tenure. "We will strengthen your monument," Ilham said, referring to Heidar Aliyev's legacy. "I believe in Azerbaijan's lucky future," added Ilham, who became the country's fourth president since Azerbaijan regained independence after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Ilham vowed to keep existing policies in place, while promising to devote more resources to reducing poverty and addressing other social ills. "The stability and public and political order that have reigned in Azerbaijan in recent years have enabled us to take great steps in the sphere of attracting investment," Aliyev said. "It is the duty of all of us to preserve, retain and strengthen this stability in Azerbaijan. No one can disrupt stability ... and if someone tries to do so, we will not allow this to happen."
Aliyev said the continued development of the country's oil and gas sector would serve as the cornerstone of overall economic growth. He pledged that oil profits, invested by the State Oil Fund, would "effectively serve the Azerbaijani people." [For additional information on Azerbaijan's Oil Fund see Caspian Revenue Watch]. Aliyev also promised "great works" would be carried out to improve social conditions, pointing out that 60 percent of Azerbaijan's 2004 budget would be devoted to social spending.
The new president vowed to take a tough line on efforts to reach a political settlement with neighboring Armenia on the status of Nagorno Karabakh. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Aliyev characterized the Karabakh as the "thorniest" issue facing Azerbaijan. "We shall never reconcile ourselves to the current situation," Aliyev said.
The outgoing president, Heidar Aliyev, has not made a public appearance in months, and is currently receiving treatment for a variety of illnesses at the Cleveland Clinic. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. According to one media report, the elder Aliyev watched the inauguration of his son via the internet from Cleveland.
At a news conference after the inaugural ceremonies, Ilham Aliyev expressed a desire to enter into a political dialogue with opposition leaders, who have refused to recognize the legitimacy of the presidential election results. International observers found the October 15 vote to be marred by widespread fraud. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. "The establishment of solidarity among political parties is a necessity," Aliyev said.
It is clear, however, that any dialogue would occur on terms set by the government. Officials have blamed opposition activists, especially those belonging to the Musavat Party, for attempting to foment unrest during the election aftermath. Since mid-October, officials have pressured Musavat loyalists, arresting hundreds. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive]. According to various media reports, up to 100 people have been fired from state jobs because of their affiliation with opposition political parties.
Despite the reports of government manipulation of the vote, along with the post-election crackdown on the opposition, the international community, including the United States and European Union, has embraced the new Aliyev administration. For example, the Turan news agency reported October 30 that the EU's special representative to the south Caucasus, Heikki Talvitie, announced that "the EU will be working with Ilham Aliyev."
Many Azerbaijanis appear skeptical that Aliyev will make good on his promises to improve living conditions. Such sentiment was summarized in a November 1 commentary published in the Novoye Vremya newspaper in Baku.
"Yesterday [October 31] behind the wide shoulders of policemen who reliably sealed off the Palace of the Republic, and in conditions of heightened security, Ilham Aliyev became the fourth president of the country," the commentary said. "The first one [Ayaz Mutalibov] is in [exile in] Moscow. The second one [Abulfaz Elchibey] is dead. The whereabouts of the third [Heidar Aliyev] are still unknown, and the fourth pledges to take Azerbaijan to a bright future, which was also promised by the second and third presidents before him."
"The presidents come and go, but the 멳right future' remains a mirage," the commentary added.