Wednesday, October 30, 2013
With the completion of the October 9 presidential elections, Azerbaijan left behind another important chapter in strengthening its nascent democracy. The elections were mainly assessed as free, fair and transparent by most international and local observers, including the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and many others. This time, Azerbaijani elections brought a record number of more than 1,200 foreign and more than 50,000 local observers who represented over 100 countries.
However, there were criticisms, in particular from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. It is true that the elections were not flawless. There were shortcomings and those will be investigated by the Central Election Commission as was the case in the previous elections.
Obviously, in young democracies like Azerbaijan there is always room for improvement. The electoral shortcomings remind us again of the need to take relevant actions to rectify them so that they are not repeated in the next elections.
Great strides forward
Criticism is, of course, important in democracies as it is one of the building blocks of a free society. However, criticism should not turn into condemnation. It should be constructive, fair and well-grounded. More importantly, critics need to find the courage to praise the Azerbaijani government's wide-ranging achievements. For example, poverty in the country has been reduced to around 7 percent over the past 10 years, thanks to the government's economic and employment policies. Azerbaijan has also received recognition from the World Bank and the IMF for its fertile business environment.
Another vital area in which Azerbaijan invests consciously is education, with a view to further developing the country's human capital. In fact, President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly declared his resolve to turn the country's oil capital into human capital. Currently, Azerbaijan implements a special government scholarship programme which funds the education of talented Azerbaijani youth in prestigious universities around the world. So far, thousands of Azerbaijani youth have benefitted from this scheme and the process will continue over the coming years. This demonstrates the government's determination to educate youth for the next generation, who will, in turn, play a role in moving our nation even farther ahead.
The government also does care about increasing transparency and the efficiency of delivering services to the people.
Recently we have begun setting up the so-called Easy Service Centres across the country in order to further facilitate delivery of public services and reduce people-to-people contact. This is also vital for improving the e-governance scheme that has been underway for some years. It is unfortunate that the critics of Azerbaijan's government in international media outlets do not pay attention to these significant changes that bring tangible benefits to the lives of millions of Azerbaijanis.
Take our role as a responsible member of the international community: Just 20 years after our independence, in 2011, Azerbaijan gained a seat as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. In fact, this month we are chairing the UN Security Council. In this capacity we have played a constructive and responsible role in discussions over major issues which are on the international agenda.
We also take the international assistance development very seriously. With this in mind, Azerbaijan has recently set up a special state agency dealing with humanitarian projects for people in need across the globe. To name a few, Azerbaijan is providing assistance to Afghanistan with its e-government plans and training its civil servants, including future diplomats. We carry out different humanitarian projects in many African countries. In June, Baku hosted a donor conference for Palestine bringing together international donors who reaffirmed their commitments to helping the people of Palestine.
The democratic development of Azerbaijan is a process, and over the past 20 years the country has made significant progress in strengthening its democratic standards. National legislation has been upgraded to the European standard and a strong legislative basis has been created for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
In fact, Azerbaijan is no stranger to democratic ideals. After World War I and following the collapse of the Russian Empire, Azerbaijan established the first democratic government in the Muslim world. Though it survived for only two years, the willingness and ability of our nation to create a democratic republic at such a tumultuous period reflects the long-standing commitment of our people to democracy.
It is on this foundation that the Republic of Azerbaijan has progressed since regaining independence in 1991, and we take great inspiration and encouragement from what our ancestors had achieved during difficult times a hundred years ago.
Coming back to the presidential elections, what matters in democracies is the respect for the will of people - and that is exactly what happened in Azerbaijan on October 9. The landslide electoral achievement of President Aliyev reflects his personal popularity, and that his policies draw appreciation and support from the voters. The past 10 years of economic development in the country, as well as the modernisation of many spheres, ensured President Aliyev's re-election.
At this stage of its development, what Azerbaijan needs is not continuing international pressure or scrutiny from the international media outlets. Instead, what we need is strong support in our journey towards strengthening democratic standards. Looking ahead, my country will stick to its strategic vision of establishing a mature democracy.
We do this not to please our critics, but because this is the right direction in which to take our young country ahead.
Fakhraddin Gurbanov has been serving as Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the United Kingdom since 2007. Before that he has held a number of diplomatic posts abroad including, being Ambassador to Canada (2003-07) and Consul General in Washington D.C for two terms during 1993 and 2001. He has also been Ambassador-at-large at Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry for two years (2001-03).
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