After their humiliating losses during the November 6 parliamentary elections, Azerbaijan’s opposition has entered a predictable period of in-fighting and collapse. Many local analysts had predicted that with no tangible successes during elections for the past 12 years and with no apparent ability to organize and sustain strong resistance to the ruling party, the opposition parties would gradually disappear from Azerbaijan’s political scene.
This process started after the presidential election in 2003, yet the democratic “color revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine heartened opposition activists. But the opposition bloc’s inability to prevent election fraud surrounding the November parliamentary elections has destroyed any unity among the opposition parties.
In December the venerable National Independence Party (ANIP) became the first opposition party to collapse. A group of Supreme Council members rebelled against chairman Ali Aliyev and accused him of violating the party’s charter. Aliyev has strongly advocated unity with the opposition Azadliq bloc and favored street rallies to protest the ruling regime. This approach went against the general orientation of the party, which attempts to act as a “soft and loyal” opposition. The founder and leader of the party, Etibar Mammadov, seems to be partly behind these accusations. Ali Aliyev’s efforts to meet with Mammadov and solve the issue have so far failed to produce results. “If the meeting does not take place, there are some dangers awaiting the party,” Aliyev told ANS TV (December 19).
ANIP’s Supreme Council issued a statement on January 3 accusing Aliyev of “undermining party activities, making unilateral decisions, causing damage to the party’s image, and violating party regulations” (Turan News Agency, January 3) Aliyev told Turan News Agency on the same day that all accusations brought against him are “groundless,” arguing that “certain” people he refused to name are complicating the situation in the party. The Council will meet on January 8 to evaluate Aliyev’s performance.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, one of the major opposition parties in the country and the co-founder of the Azadliq bloc, is also crumbling. Open conflict has erupted between two of the party’s deputy chairmen: Sardar Jalaloglu and Aydin Guliyev. Jalaloglu accused Guliyev of violating the party’s official line and spreading false information about the failed attempt by party chairman Rasul Guliyev to come back to Azerbaijan in October 2005. Guliyev has been in exile in the United States since 1996, and his failed return disappointed a large segment of his party members. The party council expelled Aydin Guliyev from the party ranks on December 19, which sparked a rebellion in many regional branches of the ADP. Aydin Guliyev, in turn, has asked the party to expel Jalaloglu (Day.az, December 27).
Nevertheless, the two biggest threats to opposition unity are located within the Musavat party and alongside the alliance between Musavat and the Popular Front. The two parties seem to be having increasingly opposing views on how to proceed after their electoral losses.
Whereas the Popular Front advocates a boycott of parliament and the supplemental elections scheduled for May 13, 2006, Musavat seems inclined to participate in both. “If Musavat boycotts the re-elections, my whole family and I will leave the party,” Rauf Arifoglu, deputy chairman of Musavat party, declared (www.day.az, December 18). Local newspapers report that another Musavat deputy chair, Sulheddin Akbar, has accused Popular Front leader Ali Kerimli of fracturing the Azadliq bloc. The gulf separating the two parties emerged on November 26, when the Popular Front advocated a “sit-in” protest campaign after a scheduled opposition rally ended at Galaba Square and the Musavat activists rebuffed them and went home. The subsequent brutal police crackdown has weakened the opposition’s resistance and the Azadliq bloc had to postpone additional rallies three times. The most recent unauthorized rally, on December 18, drew only a hundred or so opposition activists, mostly from the Popular Front.
The Day.az Internet news site reported on January 3 that all of the winning Musavat candidates have accepted their parliamentary mandates from the Central Election Commission, a statement that was not denied by Musavat members themselves. It is also widely expected that both Musavat members and PFP member Jamil Hasanli will join the new parliament and also urge their parties to participate in the repeat elections in May.
The post-election “dust” still has not cleared. It is likely that traditional opposition parties will collapse or split. The Popular Front is perhaps the least likely to suffer simply because Ali Kerimli has his eye on the 2008 presidential election, and party activists still cling to some hope. Kerimli has grown in the past five years to become the main opposition figure, and he will likely continue to strengthen his powers within the opposition front. His hard-line position these days is explained by the fact that Kerimli, often portrayed in the past as a member of the “soft” opposition, wants to become the principal member of the radical opposition and thus attract the protest votes for the upcoming presidential election.
In the coming months several new parties will likely emerge and offer less radical stances and more desire to work on the issues and challenges facing the country. At this point, it is clear that radicalism and street battles do not produce tangible results for the opposition, due to the unequal power distribution between them and law-enforcement agencies. Thus, focusing on the issues and advocating the gradual change might be the best strategy for the next few years.