Azerbaijan - Domestic policy

During his 1998 presidential campaign, Aliyev stressed that he planned no major changes in domestic and foreign policy if reelected. At his inauguration, he stated that the increasing political stability since his election in 1993, the 1995 legislative election and constitutional referendum, and his October 1998 reelection had "proved to the world that a democratic, legal, and civilized state is under construction in Azerbaijan." He pledged to pursue continued dialogue with political opposition forces, stating that "democracy is impossible without opposition." He praised the economic assistance Azerbaijan had received from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank and declared that "we will move forward along the path to a market economy." He pledged to combat corruption among governmental officials. In late 1998, Aliyev responded to the Asian and Russian economic crises by calling for increased tax collection and privatization efforts and an end to unnecessary inspections and other interference in the work of private industry. His goals include finding ways to attract foreign investment, combating corruption in law enforcement and elsewhere in government, and aiding the poor and refugees. Despite this impressive economic agenda, Aliyev appeared to be launching a new crackdown on political dissent and making efforts to restrict freedom of the press.

In response to criticism that he was stifling opposition media (after electricity was cut off to a printing factory where opposition newspapers are produced and an editor of an opposition journal was arrested), Aliyev announced measures in December 2001 aimed at easing economic pressure on newspapers and television and radio stations. These included eliminating the import duty on newsprint, reducing tariffs on broadcasting licenses, issuing guarantees that state-run publishers would print both government and opposition newspapers, and encouraging the state-run bank to extend credit to media companies. Journalists, not satisfied that opposition media could survive, staged demonstrations in Baku over government repression; Aliyev responded by meeting with journalists personally to try to allay their concerns.

In early 2002, opposition rallies were becoming larger and more frequent. Opposition groups called for the release of political prisoners, an aggressive handling of the conflict with neighboring Armenia over the status of the enclave, NK, and sometimes even demanded Aliyev's resignation. Aliyev has designated his son, Ilham, to succeed him, although he had no plans to leave office as of early 2002; however, he traveled to the Cleveland Clinic in the United States for prostate surgery in February 2002, raising questions about his health. Barring further health problems or other unplanned occurrences, Aliyev insisted that he planned to run for reelection in 2003 on a platform of liberating the occupied lands of Karabakh, conducting economic reforms, and maintaining stability. Analysts projected that he could win easily.

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