Who’s who in the new Azerbaijani parliament
The Azerbaijani parliament, or “Milli Majlis,” will remain much the same as it was before the February 9 early elections. These were recognized by the OSCE and almost all independent observers in Azerbaijan to be undemocratic, but the Constitutional Court of Azerbaijan decided otherwise. Opposition protests yielded no results. Just what kind of parliament will Azerbaijan have over the next five years?
To begin with, this new parliament is comprised mostly of old members.
The old guard
The previous assembly decided to dissolve itself due to inconsistencies with presidential reforms. Nevertheless, 79 out of 125 of the old MPs –about two thirds–were re-elected to the new parliament. The mandates of four MPs were suspended by the Central Election Commission after the investigation into violations during the election.
Who did the ruling New Azerbaijan party consider to be good reform candidates?
These are the same MPs who unanimously approved all the bills proposed by the government–members of the ruling party or people extremely loyal to the authorities.
For example, Siyavush Novruzov, an MP since 2000 who has been the subject of much ridicule, is one of the members of the New Azerbaijan party who held a position in ex-President Heydar Aliyev’s administration. Novruzov is now the executive secretary of the ruling party, and after finding out the election results, he visited the grave of the ex-president to “receive the blessing of the leader of the nation.”
Oktay Asadov, who was the speaker in the last three assemblies, will remain an MP, but will no longer be a speaker. The new speaker is now, Sahib Gafarova, vice president of the Baku Slavic University, who has served in the last three assemblies.
Zahid Oruj, who has served as an MP during the last four assemblies and is close to the ruling party, will also retain his position. He is known for his participation in the presidential elections of 2013 and 2018, where he spoke in support of Ilham Aliyev.
Fattah Heydarov–the 82-year old father of Minister of Emergency Situations Kamaladdin Heydarov–is the oldest in parliament. He has served in all parliamentary assemblies (since 1995) and is the chairman of the “Council of Elders” in Azerbaijan.
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Of the 42 “new” MPs, there is a group of reformers, and experts say these are the people the government is banking on. All of them are distinguished by a foreign education and a promising career. They have recently been given Wikipedia articles with detailed biographies.
One example is Vugar Bayramov. He has worked with various think tanks and been published in well-known western journals. Bayramov is one of the co-authors of the Strategic Road Map proposed by President Ilham Aliyev.
Another is Tural Ganjaliyev, the recently-elected leader of the Nagorno-Karabakh community in Azerbaijan. A native of the city of Shusha, 40-year-old Ganjaliev made a successful career for himself in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and has worked in the Azerbaijan Embassies in Canada and the Czech Republic.
The most heavily-discussed person on this list is Nigar Arpadarai. The commotion surrounding her election is mostly thanks to her rival, critic and blogger Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, who continues to accuse her of rigging the vote in her own favor.
Nigar Arpadarai held a senior position in the marketing and PR department for Formula 1 racing in Baku. Some media agencies called her one of the leading PR specialists in Azerbaijan. Prior to this position, she worked at the mobile company NAR and was responsible for its rebranding.
The only MP from the opposition is Erkin Gadirli, a member of the Republican Alternative Party (REAL).
His election provoked fierce debate and criticism, since Gadirli said before the election that he would give up his position if the elections were not democratic. Many felt that the authorities made a deal with him and rigged the results in his favor. However, after consulting with members of the same party, Erkin Gadirli decided nevertheless to accept the mandate, considering it a victory.
Razi Nurullayev, a former presidential candidate, is considered a member of the opposition. He was deputy chairman under Popular Front Party head Ali Karimli, but then later broke off ties with him. After holding a meeting with other party members who were also dissatisfied with Karimli’s leadership, he proclaimed himself the party chairman. The Ministry of Justice recognized this meeting and decision as legitimate.
During his presidential campaign in 2018, Nurullayev announced that he intended to buy a nuclear bomb from Pakistan, which was met with ridicule on social networks. Even though he himself was a candidate, he campaigned for Ilham Aliyev.
These are MPs who are demographically and professionally similar to the old composition of the parliament. They are not good candidates for reformers, but for the most part, they already occupy senior positions, are loyal to the authorities, and are highly decorated.
For example, the youngest MP from the ruling party, 26-year-old Sabina Khasaeva, about whom little is known;
Ruling party MP Ramil Hasan, who is known for a scandal with Moldovan courts and the company Etna Group, which issued a proof of employment letter stating that Hasan made $11 thousand dollars a year, while the number on their financial statements differed greatly;
Afet Hasanova, who held party positions under Soviet rule, and until recently held senior administration positions in the Quba and Surakhani districts in Baku;
And Amina Agazade, the wife of Ibrahim Lemberanski, a prosecutor from the village of Pirallagi, and the state prosecutor in several political cases, such as the NIDA activist case and the case involving Leyla and Arif Yunus, among others.
What has really changed?
Experts in Azerbaijan do not expect any qualitative changes in domestic policy.
Altay Göyüşov, a former assistant professor at Baku State University and an employee at the Baku Research Institute, believes that in terms of functionality and separation of powers, the new parliament is no different from the previous one:
“The new parliament will continue to be what is known as a ‘rubber stamp’: an institution that has de jure power but is de facto subordinate to the executive branch. The government will use the new parliament to demonstrate the ‘reforms’ they are making. For example, they will use the fact that the speaker of parliament is a woman.”