Head of the Department for Public and Political Issues at the President`s Office of the Republic of Azerbaijan has given an interview to the UK`s The Business Year magazine on the upcoming presidential election.
The following is the full text of the interview:-At the center of this year`s campaign, what issues are the most important for Azerbaijani voters?
- The most important subject for the voters is the democratic process of choosing their President. There are a number of issues driving the campaign, including economic policy, foreign affairs, and social development. But at the heart of it all is the right of voters to choose the current status quo and continue the current direction, or to vote for a change. If they choose to go ahead with the current trajectory, they are going to vote again for President Ilham Aliyev. If they choose change, they are presented with nine alternatives. However, according to independent surveys, 80% of the voters believe that President Ilham Aliyev`s term should continue. This is the result of the President`s success in putting Azerbaijan on the international map and instituting a social and economic policy that has resulted in dynamic and equitable growth for the nation and an increasingly prominent position in world affairs.-What steps are being taken to improve the transparency of the electoral process in Azerbaijan?
- This year we have placed webcams in one out of every five polling stations around the country—of 5,000 polling stations, 1,000 of them have webcams. These devices will allow us to record the voting as well as the counting process, and verify the final results. The election process will be visible to everyone from all over the world who would like to watch. In addition, we have 40,000 official observers registered. Approximately 2,000 of them are from international organizations such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the European Council and Parliament, and election commissions from other countries, as well as international election centers like the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). The rest, approximately 38,000 observers, are people from other parties in the country, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from around the world, and embassies. Our people are also involved in this process. Our citizens will be voting in front of 30-40 observers at each polling station. The voting boxes are transparent as well. In other words, you can literally see the ballots. We also invited members of the local and international press to watch the process closely and announce the results in real time to the world. We have tried our best to create a transparent environment.-How have demographic and economic changes in Azerbaijan since the last election cycle impacted the dynamics of the electorate?
- Azerbaijan has developed significantly since the last election—not only economically, but also culturally and socially. In addition, the geographic spread of Azerbaijan`s growth is increasing, meaning that there is a real emphasis on improving the quality of life in accordance with economic growth throughout all regions of the country. Specific areas, such as ICT, are having a revolutionizing effect on Azerbaijan. Major advancements, government policies, and private sector progress have created an environment where people are using technology to educate themselves regarding the elections and the issues at stake. Thanks to the various mediums, including TV, computers, and smart phones, voters know the candidates and their policies. That means a more informed citizenry, one that is empowered to make the best decisions. They can also follow up everything during the actual election itself. This represents an important step in the development of voting and elections in Azerbaijan and elsewhere.-What role has political stability played in Azerbaijan`s highly successful economic model?
- We can`t talk about investment if there is no political stability. Local and international investors do extensive studies on this subject, since it represents probably the first condition they look at when analyzing the risk for their investments. In the last 10 years Azerbaijan`s political stability has been settled. Additionally, the business environment has been liberalized. This has played a very significant role in allowing Azerbaijan to improve its rating economically and financially as well as to attract international investors in a variety of sectors. Including foreign investments, Azerbaijan has seen some $150 billion in investment over the last 10 years. The investments that have been achieved over the last five years amounted to between $20 billion and $25 billion on an annual basis. These investments were made by investors mainly from the US, Europe, and other countries. One of the major reasons for this is that our political stability is getting stronger every day. Political stability remains at the heart of Azerbaijan`s development.-According to independent polls, President Ilham Aliyev has an approval rating of over 80%. To what do you attribute this exceptionally high rate, and what have been President Aliyev`s key accomplishments over the last term?
- During President Ilham Aliyev`s term over the last 10 years, he has taken care of the people`s needs and demands. He diagnosed what the country needed to develop, and he put together a visionary government plan. During this time, Azerbaijan`s GDP has increased 3.5 fold. When he assumed the presidency national GDP was $1.5 billion-$2.5 billion—now it is $25 billion-$30 billion. Additionally, President Ilham Aliyev has formed very good diplomatic relationships with other world leaders. He did what his people needed, and that`s why Azerbaijanis don`t see any other alternatives. The other important subject is that he put together social reforms, covering social and cultural advancement, improved education and healthcare, as well as a stronger pension system and other forms of social security. Azerbaijan has turned into a leading country regionally and internationally. That`s the reason why people vote for him.-How would you define President Ilham Aliyev`s current campaign platform, and what is his vision for a new term?
- Our motto is “Continuation,” which means continuing the current term and the policies that have put Azerbaijan on its ongoing path of social and economic growth. We have already prepared a strategic plan for Azerbaijan. Our target for 2020 is to achieve “Developed Nation” status for Azerbaijan. Right now, Azerbaijan is a developing and middle-income country. Our GDP per capita is $6,000-$7000 and our target is to make this number $10,000 to $12,000 in the next seven years. We are currently on target for this goal, and that is why “Continuation” has resonated with so many voters across the country.