By Christian Lowe
If Azerbaijan’s leader Ilham Aliyev is to steer his oil exporting state out of its economic crisis, he will have to show a resolve not in evidence during his privileged upbringing or in the 13 years since he succeeded his father as president.
Aliyev, 54, is confronting the biggest crisis of his presidency after the fall in the global price of oil wiped about a third off the value of the national currency, caused a sharp economic slowdown and prompted outbreaks of civil unrest.
People who know Aliyev say he is a competent administrator who has put in place important steps to contain the crisis.
But some observers say those are sticking plaster solutions, and that the long-term answer — real economic reform – is blocked by a coterie of advisors and ministers Aliyev inherited from his father and whom he is reluctant to push out.
Prime Minister Artur Rasizade has been in the same job since 1998, when he served under Ilham Aliyev’s father, Heydar. The influential presidential chief of staff, 77-year-old Ramiz Mehtiyev, has been in the same role since 1995.
Asked if he believed Ilham Aliyev was capable of pushing through real change, Steinar Gil, a former Norwegian ambassador to Azerbaijan, said: “I doubt that. If he really wanted that, why is he keeping all these old guard people?”
“This regime has frozen,” said Gil, whose country, via state energy firm Statoil, is one of the biggest foreign investors in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan’s ability to ride out the storm of low oil prices will provide clues as to whether other oil producers, from Russia to Algeria and Nigeria, can also survive their economic crises without slipping into chaos.