In Azerbaijan, the More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same
In the end, the announcement did not generate surprise. Re-elected in October with 89 percent of the vote, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev re-appointed all members of his former cabinet except for one minister. Experts say that the lack of change indicates that the government is unlikely to pursue reforms in the near future.
Before the October presidential elections, some observers expressed the belief that there would be some turnover within the cabinet, with new officials being brought in who wanted to pursue economic reforms. But those expectations failed to materialize.
On October 31, President Aliyev signed a decree forming a government of 20 ministers and four deputy prime ministers. Only one change occurred: Shahin Mustafayev, a former deputy minister of taxes and vice-president of SOCAR [State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic] for economic affairs, was named minister of economic development. Three days earlier, parliament approved without discussion Artur Rasizade as prime minister, a post Rasizade has held since 1996.
In his October 24 inauguration speech, President Aliyev emphasized the importance of moving beyond the energy sector to focus on regional development and "opening new enterprises."
That would indicate a shake-up in economic policies, but one political analyst says that he does not expect any serious reforms in economic policy, domestic or foreign policy over the next five years. "The government is absolutely the same and even if there are changes in personnel no changes in policy are expected," commented Rasim Musabekov. [Musabekov sits on the board of Azerbaijan's Open Society Institute-Assistance Foundation. EurasiaNet.org operates under the auspices of the New York-based Open Society Institute].
Barring a severe slump in oil prices, no pressing need exists for economic changes, one other analyst, Ilgar Mammadov, elaborated. "Usually, governments implement reforms in order to increase revenues, but our government does not need to," Mammadov said.
Economic expert Inglab Ahmadov of the Public Finance Monitoring Center argues that the global financial crisis should prompt Aliyev to focus more heavily on the development of the country's non-oil sector. New businesses, however, he added, should not be financed by the state.
"I wonder why the government invests state funds into competitive areas such as tourism, information technologies, communication and transport," Ahmadov said. "The government should open these sectors for private investors, create favorable business environments and let private investment run there." [Editor's Note: The Public Finance Monitoring Center receives support from the Open Society Institute-Assistance Foundation in Azerbaijan].
The lack of cabinet changes following Aliyev's inauguration indicates that "[p]olicy for the near-term ? will be the same," he forecast.
Government representatives declined to comment on Aliyev's cabinet decisions, saying that it is the president's prerogative to appoint government ministers.
Mina Muradova is a freelance reporter based in Baku.
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