Different groups in Azerbaijan are clamoring for their share of the massive flow of oil revenue generated by the completion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. Lobbying from the ministries for additional financial resources to complete new, massive projects is leading to a new era in Azerbaijani politics. Among the public works projects under consideration are refugee settlements, bridges and underpasses in Baku, subways and railways, roads, and schools.
Political parties and NGOs alike have entered the competition for oil revenues. Until only recently the more hard-line opposition parties and NGOs refused to sit down with the authorities at the government-owned negotiating table, preferring a neutral forum instead. Now they have openly expressed a desire to claim their part of the pie.
The government has responded positively, as funding NGOs and political parties will create additional tools to control them, especially prior to the presidential elections next year. On July 27 President Ilham Aliyev issued a decree calling on the government to “adopt a concept of state support for the non-governmental organization” (AzTV, July 27). According to the decree, the president’s office has two months to prepare suggestions regarding the establishment of a Fund to Support NGOs and to formulate procedures for the state to work with NGOs (Trend News Agency, July 27).
The decree established priority areas for NGO projects, such as advancing Azerbaijani positions regarding the Karabakh conflict in the international arena, protecting the rights of internally displaced persons and refugees, assisting disabled citizens and war veterans, encouraging the idea of “Azerbaijanism,” cooperating with foreign NGOs, encouraging human rights, and promoting the rights and freedoms of individuals, including the right to free speech and expression (Echo, August 2).
NGO leaders welcomed the government’s long-awaited decision. In recent years, NGOs have largely relied on international donors and foundations for project funds, but as the foundation monies have dried up, many local NGOs have found themselves on the brink of bankruptcy.
Azay Guliyev, president of the Azerbaijani NGO Forum and a member of parliament, assessed the decree positively. “It will contribute to the development of national NGOs and serve as a new stage in the dialogue between the state and civil society,” Guliyev to Echo newspaper on August 2. The Azerbaijani NGO Forum has also initiated a roundtable discussion with dozens of local NGOs to give feedback on the presidential decree and develop suggestions on concrete ways to support the third sector. Arastun Orujov, director of the presidential staff, hinted that the NGOs will be provided the “financial, informational and other kinds of assistance, as well as conditions to hold events, conferences, forums, and trainings” (Echo, August 2).
Speaking to Azertaj news agency, Parliamentary Speaker Bahar Muradova indicated that the law on political parties would be amended during the fall session of the parliament (Zerkalo, September 4). Muradova did not specify which aspects of the law will be discussed, but noted that the current law, adopted in 1992, is not suitable for the contemporary political environment and that the relations between the parties and society, as well as political party funding, will be re-worked, taking into consideration the representation of the political parties in parliament and the geographic scope of their activities in the country. The issue of state financial support is of special interest to the political parties, as they have long been accused of being sponsored from abroad.
Although these amendments to the law on political parties have been on the table for nearly two years, there has been no formal document presented to members of parliament. Opposition MP Panah Huseyn told media representatives on September 3 that he had not seen any such draft and that perhaps it was still under development in the president’s office. Huseyn added that the experience of other countries should be taken into account when developing financial and other conditions for Azerbaijan’s political parties, including such acts as simplifying the registration process for parties and establishing financial quotas for them.
Fazil Gazanfaroglu, chairman of the “Great Revival” opposition party and a member of parliament, also welcomed the idea of the new amendments, noting the need to support secular parties. Indeed, in the past several years, secular parties have stagnated, leading to the growth of Islamic tendencies in the country. According to Gazanfaroglu and other experts, it is exactly this factor that drives the government to support political parties.
Although both initiatives are positive in nature, they are likely to provide extra financial resources for the leaders of NGOs and parties, but they are unlikely to change the democratic atmosphere in the country significantly.