As Azerbaijan’s November 6 parliamentary elections fade into the distance, the more the Azerbaijani opposition is realizing that they missed their best opportunity to secure a role in national politics. Having inflated their expectations prior to the elections and convinced themselves that November 6 would be their “Day of Victory,” the opposition alliance Azadliq and its allies now find themselves in a very embarrassing situation: not only have they failed to deliver on their promises to their members and core supporters, they also refuse to recognize their own mistakes. Thus, the easiest solution is to blame someone else.
After a week of anti-American hysteria in the opposition press, a new scapegoat has been found. On December 2, it became known that two opposition representatives in the Central Election Commission (CEC), Vidadi Mahmudlu and Arzuman Alizadeh, have signed off on the final CEC vote count for the parliamentary elections. Mahmudlu, who represents the Musavat party and also serves as the secretary of the CEC, became the immediate object of attacks from the opposition parties and press. “If it was only Arzuman Alizadeh [a representative of the more moderate Azerbaijan National Independence Party in the CEC], it would not have been noticed that much,” exclaimed opposition daily Yeni Musavat, hinting at the fact that Mahmudlu’s gesture was particularly painful. Musavat party chairman Isa Gambar added, “Mahmudlu has signed a state crime and the opposition has lost one of its loyal supporters in the struggle for democracy” (Yeni Musavat, December 2).
Indeed, Mahmudlu was one of the most uncompromising and dedicated opposition members to serve in the CEC. He is known as a highly professional lawyer and an intelligent expert on the election code. He has defended the positions of the opposition in previous elections and always advocated a more transparent election process. Yet, he has done it in a very restrained and organized way and was respected even by the government for such a measured approach.
Opposition parties labeled his action as “treason and selling out.” “As even you did not tolerate the pressures of the regime,” read a headline in the Azadliq newspaper on December 2. Mahmudlu himself stated at a press conference the following day that his actions were not the result of any pressures from the government or any outside force, but rather a “personal decision he has come to, after consulting with family members” (AzTV 1). Mahmudlu supported his decision with the argument that he did not agree with the opposition alliance Azadliq’s strategy to call for violence and disobedience on November 26. On that day, the opposition exceeded its allotted time for an authorized rally and police subsequently used force to disperse an attempted sit-in, wounding dozens of people.
Interestingly, Mahmudlu had voted against the final ruling of the CEC on November 23 and had harshly criticized the election process in general. Yet, three days later, he asked for the final protocol and signed it. When asked by ANS TV on December 4, Mahmudlu said that “signing of the final CEC protocol is a technical act” and that he still stands by his November 23 speech. He also added that from now on he would continue his career as a lawyer and would not support either side.
Mahmudlu’s decision to sign the final protocol demonstrates several trends in Azeri politics. Foremost, it shows the decreasing popularity of the opposition parties, who after 12 years of struggle have failed to deliver tangible results to their voters and supporters. Ill-prepared for the elections and preferring to target the general election process rather than campaign issues, the opposition parties reaped a humiliating loss on November 6. This defeat has used up the last trace of patience in some of the opposition members. The opposition parties began to hemorrhage members in October 2003, yet the flood was stanched by promises and hopes for a “velvet revolution.” Now, this trend is likely to resume at an even faster speed. In recent days Altay Goyushov, head of Musavat’s Religious Committee, has also resigned from the party.
At the same time, it is clear that a significant portion of the opposition has become tired of the struggle for power that has been ongoing for more than 12 years. During this time, they have been pressured, harassed, and often unemployed. The population’s general passivity and indifference to the domestic political processes has started to affect them as well.
Mahmudlu likely did not “sell out.” If he were ready to quit the party, he would have done it in 2000 or after the 2003 elections. His decision is best explained by the frustration and deep disappointment in the opposition parties, a trend that is becoming more widespread among the opposition activists.