Azerbaijan’s oldest and, by many standards, the strongest opposition party –Musavat– continues to experience a massive outflow of its key members. For the first time since the party restored its functioning in Azerbaijan in 1992, four senior and dozens of ordinary party operatives have left the party. In early December 2010, the Musavat Party’s Supreme Council Chairman, Sulheddin Akbar, and member of the Supreme Council, Ibrahim Ibrahimli, resigned citing differences of opinions with the party chairman, Isa Gambar (aged 53). On January 14, 2011 MIA information agency reported that dozens of party members in Sumgait city had also resigned. Two weeks later, Deputy Chairman, Gabil Huseynli, and another high-ranking member of the Supreme Council, Adil Geybulla, also filed their resignation letters with the party chairman. In the resignation letter, they state: “We regret to inform you that we resign from the Musavat party in which we were members for many years and whose restoration and development we served all these years. We will continue our political activity and plan to establish a political-social movement ‘Musavat’s Heritage and Modernity’” (Yeni Musavat, January 4, 2011).
Within a few days, four former party members met to discuss future political plans and actions, including the possibility of joint activities. Adil Geybulla informed the APA news agency that “at the moment the plans are underway to establish a political-social movement ‘Musavat’s Heritage and Modernity,’ and it is not excluded that it will be transformed into a political party.”
Unlike other opposition parties, such as the Popular Front Party, National Independence Party, Liberal Party, Social Democratic Party, and Azerbaijan Democratic Party –all of which have experienced major and painful splits and fragmentations, Musavat has managed to preserve its unity throughout difficult periods for the opposition in the 1990’s and 2000’s. Even when its senior members were arrested in 2003, the Musavat Party maintained its strong presence in the national political arena and managed to reunite with them once they were released. Despite its losses in the national elections and a lack of representation in the parliament, the party’s Chairman, Isa Gambar, was successful in consolidating the party and preserving heavyweight opposition figures within the party’s Supreme Council. Yet, after the 2010 parliamentary elections, dissatisfaction with the party leadership’s decisions continued to grow. Some members were unhappy about the failed negotiations with another opposition party (Popular Front Party) regarding unification. The opposition’s division and lack of coordination was the main reason for its disappointing performance in the national elections. Others blame Gambar for his inflexibility and unwillingness to agree to compromises with other opposition parties for the sake of a wider cause. Those members who resigned from the Sumgait branch of the party feel that the failed plans for the unification of the two parties will damage the hopes of the opposition in the 2013 presidential elections. The idea of the unification of opposition parties was proposed by Gambar last summer, and the Popular Front Party was the first to respond positively, confirming its intentions by its vote in the party Supreme Council.
Gambar’s long-term chairmanship has been another source of discontent. While the opposition parties have always criticized former President, Heydar Aliyev, for his cult of personality and desire to retain power for the rest of his life, opposition leaders themselves do not act any differently. Ever since Musavat was re-established in post-Soviet Azerbaijan in 1992, Gambar continued to hold on to its chairmanship. Nineteen years of chairmanship exercised by one individual, despite the party’s significant gains in national elections, irritated some members of the party, who insist that Gambar should step down to allow a younger generation of party members to gain control of the decision making process.
Whatever the true causes of the party’s fragmentation, Musavat’s leadership prefers to downplay these events. Commenting on the latest developments, the chief of the party’s apparatus, Arif Hacili said, “There is a certain refreshing process going on within the party. It is natural that this process has some negative consequences. We will try to replace those who have left the party with new faces, who have popularity in the political arena and who are ready for active political struggle. We will try to emerge from this situation in stronger shape than we were before” (Yeni Musavat, January 6).