Azerbaijan’s parliament has unanimously approved the appointment of Novruz Mammadov, a longtime ally of the ruling family, as the country's new prime minister. It is the country's first new premier in over two decades, but appears to signal little change at the top of Azerbaijan's ruling structures.
Mammadov, a foreign policy aide to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, will replace Artur Rasizade, who has held the position since 1996.
At 83, Rasizade was well past retirement age. And observers saw the appointment of Mammadov, now nominally the country's third-most powerful person (behind first lady and vice president Mehriban Aliyeva) as an effort to not introduce any new policies.
Aliyev "once again showed that he lacks the political will to form a more flexible and efficient government and implement reforms,” economist Gubad Ibadoglu told the Turan news agency. “The prime minister should be an independent person with a program of change and a team that can take responsibility for the implementation of this program. Novruz Mammadov does not possess either organizational data [...] or professional economic knowledge for the implementation of reforms.”
One opposition politician, the leader of the Musavat party, Arif Hajili, was blunter: "It was difficult to imagine a weaker, more incompetent person than Arthur Rasizade. But they found such a [man in] Novruz Mammadov.”
Turan's analytical service, in a commentary on the appointment, noted that choice of Mammadov, a foreign policy hand, indicated a priority for security over economic management.
In his speech to parliament after being appointed, Mammadov reiterated the country’s commitment toward becoming a global transit hub.
“In a few years, Azerbaijan will become the knot of trade and economic relations between India and northern Europe, from East to West, to the South of Europe,” he said. “The main task before me is to further concretize the success achieved so far in Azerbaijan’s economic sector and decide which reforms are important for us.”
The new appointment follows on Aliyev's recent reelection for a fourth presidential term following snap elections boycotted by the country’s opposition parties and described by election monitors as undemocratic.
Mammadov had previously applauded the president’s decision to hold snap elections.
“Negative developments in the South Caucasus and neighboring regions may have an impact on Azerbaijan,” he said. “One way to neutralise this impact was to call an early presidential election.”
Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev was quick to congratulate his new counterpart, emphasising the importance of ties between the two countries.
“I am convinced that the further strengthening of bilateral trade and economic cooperation, the implementation of major joint projects in the transport, oil and gas, agro-industrial sectors, in the fields of high technology, education and culture fully meet the long-tern interests of our countries,” Medvedev said in a congratulatory letter.
Mammadov was born in former Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev’s political base in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Region in 1947.
Fluent in French, Mammadov previously served as a senior interpreter in Algeria and Guinea.
He was later appointed the head of the Foreign Relations Department of the presidential administration of Heydar Aliyev, and has served as a foreign policy adviser to current President Ilham Aliyev since June 2017.
Bradley Jardine is a freelance journalist who covers the Caucasus.