Our Analytics 20 may — 12:32

Ilham Aliyev's New Economic Policy. Opposition failed to succeed again (Our editorial)

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BY EYNULLA FATULLAYEV

Long before the onset of parliamentary elections, beginning at the end of last year, an unexpected round of political activisation began in Azerbaijan. The trigger for political revival was the so-called 'case of the blogger Mehman Huseynov,' or rather the mistakes made during the proceedings around the scandalous case of the disgraced blogger. However, the timely intervention of President Ilham Aliyev as the supreme arbiter and supra-power institution of fair will stopped the emerging protest movement. The forgotten national democrats tried to take advantage of the infringement of the rights of one prisoner, transforming this very violation of the rights of one prisoner into a protest political process. Moreover, the opposition tried to present isolated outbursts of discontent of some social groups as an emerging universal national movement for reform and democracy. But the protests again suffocated. Resistance is scattered...

What is the main political success of President Ilham Aliyev? The president always, literally in all his speeches, speaks openly about the urgent problems of the country. Last year, at meetings of the Cabinet of Ministers, in his traditional speeches to members of the government, Ilham Aliyev repeatedly spoke about problems in the Azerbaijani economy, flaws in fiscal, social and financial policies. Since last year, on the initiative of the first person, preparations for the reform began.

President himself talks about both development and problems

The authorities refused the so-called model of state capitalism, born of the era of 'big oil.' By and large, the model of state capitalism, as noted by representatives of modern progressive socio-political thought, was characteristic in 2000s for the economies of most states. It was about the increased role of state corporations not only in the national, but also in the global economy. It was the governments of the world that began to control about 75 per cent of the global energy reserves. And Azerbaijan was no exception in this series. Since Azerbaijan, like many other commodity economies of the world, tried in this way to protect the domestic market from the encroachment of foreign monsters. And all the oil economies of the world have developed a model of the so-called Stabilisation Fund as the main tool in the struggle and competition with global corporations. However, the world crisis of 2008, the subsequent collapse of oil prices and the national banking crisis caused by the fall of the International Bank of Azerbaijan, around which the system of the pyramid of corruption was built, have tipped the government of Azerbaijan to reconsider the foundations and approaches of its economic policy.

By limiting the role of the bureaucratic class and expanding the effective fight against the shadow economy, the authorities began to implement the concept of transition from a model of state capitalism to a competitive and diversified economy. According to the policy declaration of the government, the non-oil sector will play the dominant role in the new model. To this end, from last year, structural reforms were planned. The process began with a personnel reshuffle in the government and a change of leaders of the financial unit. And then began the implementation of entire industry-specific programs, which experts on the pages of our website have been commenting on for two years. We started with tax reform, then began to clean the customs field and increase the degree of protection and self-sufficiency of private business. As with all undertakings and reforms, something succeeded somewhere, and somewhere, reforms ran into powerful resistance from the reactionary forces that were guarding the shadow economy. An eloquent example - at the price of the political will of the president, it was finally possible to get off the ground the resolution of the problem of bank loans after two hardest devaluations of the manat.

The government took upon itself the problem of paying out loans to low-income families. And in order to strengthen the protection of the most vulnerable social classes, it began to raise wages and increase social benefits.

State capitalism is obsolete

Along with this, the president put his hopes in a team of young reformers from the ASAN program, appointing the head of the system-forming anti-corruption body to the position of agriculture minister. For four years now, the president has made enormous efforts to revive agriculture: meetings were held, reform packages were being prepared, pilot projects were being implemented... But there were no desirable results. Agrarian reforms stalled. What did the president do? He dismissed Minister Heydar Asadov. And by his wilful decision, the president made it clear to all the forces that he would go to the end in dismantling the former system of state capitalism.

In the very period of a radical break-up of the previous system and the transition to a revolutionary NEP (New Economic Policy), the opposition, in particular the national democrats, tried to present the reform process as a manifestation of the weakness of government. Say not the government itself, but the opposition and the small social protests and complaints of narrow groups of the population forced the authorities to reconsider their socio-economic policies. By their actions, the national democrats actually played along and continue to play along with the opponents of the NEP. Is it really a question of narrow self-interest and a thirst to shake the situation? Since January, the opposition has done everything to stop the reform policy.

National democrats declare the imitative nature of changes and updates, demanding the implementation of in-depth political reforms in the first place. Poor education and inferiority does not allow these forces to realise the obvious truth - reforming the economic system, that is, the basis of social relations, will inevitably lead to a change in the political system. And also to the change in the government-civil society relationship. The opposition should have supported the initiated reforms and the NEP of Ilham Aliyev, and not distorted the picture of reality, asserting itself as a forerunner and precursor of these reforms. Moreover, any reforms lead to disorganisation, relaxation, and even mistakes in the work of one or another state agency. What is the opposition doing? It is more than trying with all its might to take advantage of any mistake of the government. All in the name of one goal: to shake the situation.

And they offer chaos

However, if we analyse the public sentiment in social networks, where the main political battles take place, the next attempt by the national democrats to change the situation has again failed to succed. Even the permanent and episodic social protest went into decline. Why? Because all the slogans and appeals of the opposition (we have long been accustomed to the lack of alternative programs and concepts, only slogans) were reflected in the political agenda of the president in 2018. And now, for two years now, we have been watching the high-quality implementation of government initiatives.

Who can say that there is systemic corruption in Azerbaijan today? After neutralising Jahangir Hajiyev - Eldar Mahmudov duet, the president managed to radically change the situation. There is no systemic corruption, it is defeated, and is being eradicated. Agree, one complaint against a government official may cost him his head. It shows lack of scruple to talk now about impunity. Ilham Aliyev turned on emergency state control system.

Of course, there are still acute problems with bribery and monopolism. But these flaws are not systemic. And the president himself speaks about problems out loud and openly, calling all the spades spades.

Hasn't private business got absolute free hand? Didn't the last reforms untie the hands of entrepreneurs? Didn't they establish transparency and civilian control over the integrity of private business? Which government agency can now pressure the business? Were there any facts of raids on businessmen? Only a few separate cases, but the slightest publicity sets state control in motion.

Didn't the president satisfy all the wishes and aspirations of low-income citizens? A request for benefits to the families of the shahids? Ok! Need to rebuild residential buildings in Shamakhi and Aghsu after an earthquake? Of course! Ilham Aliyev finally realised the idea of a socially responsible government. The power is accountable to citizens through a system of direct democracy. Dissatisfied are sent to the presidential residence. Everyone listens, all complaints are accepted and satisfied!

That's how ministers meet citizens. Minister of Agriculture Inam Karimov meeting citizens

The NEP has reached such proportions that the president spoke about the non-procedural relations in the courts. And demanded to start cleaning in the judiciary too.

Of course, the president and his team of reformers face serious and systemic resistance. But, as the forefathers of the perestroika said, the process has begun! And it will not stop.

So, in completely new political conditions, national democrats and the traditional opposition are still trying to stop time with the help of old political tools. I repeat, even at the peak of its popularity, 15-20 years ago, the opposition was gathering many-thousand demonstrations. Today, the opposition is not able to regain the trust even of the pitiful part of the divided protest electorate. Its social base is shattered as well. Passionary part of the society supports reforms. And the government claims that no one will stop the reform policy. So why support a political force that instead of reforms offers chaos?

Alas, but society today faces the strangest choice in the entire history of Azerbaijan: reform or chaos. Society needs change, not disintegration of state and social foundations. Moreover, the government itself is identified in the public consciousness with the acceleration of reforms and renewal.

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