Immediately following Azerbaijan’s November 6 parliamentary elections, President Ilham Aliyev began cadre changes in the government. Some local experts believe the changes are long overdue.
On December 14, he replaced Yusif Humbatov, chief of the territorial-administrative division at the President’s office, with Zeynal Nagdaliyev, a young governor from Lankaran region. Nagdaliyev, who was appointed governor in 2002 by the late President Heydar Aliyev, is considered by many as a close associate of his son, President Ilham Aliyev, and a member of his “reformist team.” As governor Nagdaliyev launched several successful development projects in that region. His new post at the President’s office is a very influential one, because he will coordinate the performance of all governors and local executive officials. Some local experts believe that Aliyev has installed the loyal Nagdaliyev into this position in order to weaken the power of Ramiz Mehtiyev, the chief of staff at the President’s Office. Mehtiyev is widely viewed at the most influential government official in the country, mainly due to his control over local executive officials.
Also on December 14, Aliyev appointed another loyal official, Ramiz Hasanov, currently ambassador to Georgia, as head of the state committee for standards, meteorology, and patents.
Last week the president rotated several key figures in the oil industry. Natig Aliyev (no relation to the president), who has served as the head of the state oil company for more than a decade, was appointed minister of energy and industry. The ministry had been extremely weak under his predecessor, Mejid Kerimov, and the independent daily Echo speculated that the transfer is aimed at empowering the ministry (December 10). Kerimov shifts to become head of AzerKimya, the state chemical monopoly, a position that had been vacant since October, when its former chief, Fikret Sadigov, was accused of planning a coup and arrested. At the same time, Rovnag Abdullayev, former director of a plant in Baku, was appointed to head the state oil company.
Opposition newspapers speculated that these changes in the oil industry confirmed the lack of experienced civil servants within Aliyev’s team. “The regime’s cadre potential has exhausted itself,” exclaimed Yeni Musavat (December 11). Nevertheless, some economists believe that the rotations within the oil industry were aimed at improving the situation in the energy sector. According to oil expert Ramin Isayev, “Domestic production at the state oil company in the past decade has been shamefully low. Most of the production is done by foreign companies.”
In addition to these cadre changes in the executive branch, the newly elected parliament has made major changes at key legislative posts. Murtuz Aleskerov, who has been speaker of parliament since 1996, has been replaced by the much-younger Oktay Asadov, who is known to be close to both President Aliyev and Mehtiyev. Deputy speakers were also replaced, with former state oil company official and Aliyev’s friend Valeh Alexerov becoming the new deputy speaker. Bahar Muradova, from the younger generation of the ruling party, became the other deputy speaker.
Azerbaijan watchers believe that this is just the start of a campaign to replace government personnel. Local newspapers are full of speculation about who will be fired next. The names most often mentioned are the mayor of Baku, Hajibala Abutalibov, who is highly unpopular for the chaotic construction projects in the capital; Education Minister Misir Mardanov, criticized for high levels of corruption and low levels of reforms in the education system; and Minister of Social Protection and Labor Ali Nagiyev (Echo, Yeni Musavat, December 10-12). Another popular daily, Azadliq, reported that Ganja city mayor Eldar Azizov, who like Nagdaliyev is considered a member of Aliyev’s “young team,” is rumored to be the next mayor of Baku.
In October President Aliyev fired and subsequently arrested the highly unpopular minister of health, Ali Insanov, and several other high-ranking officials on charges of planning a “coup attempt.” Ever since Ilham Aliyev came to power in 2003, the international community and domestic observers have been expecting sweeping cadre changes. Specifically, observers hoped that he would get rid of the “old guard” that had constituted the support base of his father and bring younger, more progressive-minded people into key executive offices.
Yet, the past two years showed that the new president was unwilling — or at times unable — to make drastic personnel changes. He is still in the process of consolidating his power and firing the entire cabinet, which was made up of rich, well-connected individuals, was too risky. However, now that the parliamentary elections have passed without a popular, democratic revolution, the president has greater confidence, and he is keen to seize this moment to launch more reforms in the country.