Azerbaijan gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Azerbaijan is a unitary semi-presidential republic based on a political system of separation of power among its three branches. The president is the head of state and the head of the executive. The prime minister heads the legislature and acts as the head of government while the judiciary exists independently of the executive and legislature. Azerbaijan has diplomatic relations with 158 countries and is a member of several international bodies such as the United Nations and the World Health Organisation.
The president, elected for a five-year term (unlimited), is the head of the executive. President Ilham Aliyev is the current head state. The president, prime minister, and the cabinet make up the executive. With the approval of the parliament, the president appoints the prime minister and cabinet members. The executive of Azerbaijan has the responsibility of drafting and ensuring the execution of the state budget, overseeing implementation of state economic and social programs and advising the president on policy issues. After drafting the state budget, the executive has to pass it to parliament for approval.
Azerbaijan’s legislative branch consists of 125 members elected by direct vote, a speaker, the Fist Deputy Speaker and two other deputy speakers. The speaker heads the unicameral National Assembly (Milli Majlis). The legislature formally exists as an independent body from the executive. Under the constitution, the national assembly is responsible for making laws and approving some of the executive decisions such as the appointment of cabinet members and approval of state budgets.
The judiciary is the arm of government responsible for interpreting and applying the constitution. The judiciary also arbitrates disputes at various levels. The judiciary is made up of courts, the highest being the Supreme Court, a court of appeal, magistrate courts, district courts and the constitutional court. The president nominates Supreme Court judges who are then appointed by Parliament to serve for ten years.
Azerbaijan holds elections every five years. All persons above the age of 18 are eligible to participate in the elections. Presidential and parliamentary elections are held after five years each, but they occur at different times. The last presidential elections were held in 2013 with the next one expected to be held in 2018. The first parliamentary elections were held in 1995 and after every five years since then. The president can serve for an unlimited number of terms according to the 2008 constitutional amendment that removed the presidential term limit. International bodies have criticized the lack of free and fair elections in Azerbaijan both in the parliamentary and presidential elections.
The government of Azerbaijan has been criticized for violation of human rights and corruption. The ruling party has overpowered the opposition due to a majority representation in the national assembly. Executive interference with the legislature has also affected the overall functioning of the national assembly by reducing it to a puppet of the national government. Constitutional amendments by successive governments also indicate an element of monopolization of the government and power by the executive. Media oppression is common in Azerbaijan and media personalities criticizing the government are arrested, which is a direct violation of press freedom.