AZERBAIJAN’S OPPOSITION SET TO CONTINUE PROTEST RALLIES, BUT TIME IS RUNNING OUT
Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 212
On Sunday November 13, the Azerbaijani opposition bloc Azadliq (Freedom), which unites the Musavat, Popular Front, and Democratic parties, joined with the Liberal Party and YES election bloc to hold a second protest rally in Baku’s Galaba Square. The rally, initially planned for Saturday but postponed due to the Constitution Day observance on November 12, drew between 15,000 and 20,000 people. However, the opposition dailies Azadliq and Yeni Musavat claimed that there were up to 100,000 protestors in the square, while the Baku police department stated that the number of protestors did not exceed 4,500.
“The opposition is not fighting for 5-10 seats in the parliament, but for freedom and democracy,” declared Azadliq bloc representative Panah Huseyn. Protestors shouted back, “Bring tents to the square!” referring to the tent cities erected during Ukraine’s Orange Revolution (Day.az, November 13, 14). Yashar Aliyev, deputy chief of police for Baku, warned the Azadliq bloc prior the demonstrations that the police would not permit opposition members to use tents or remain in the square after the designated hours (ATV, November 12). In the end, the opposition managed to finish the rally before the deadline and avoided clashes with the police. Opposition media had reported last week that a sit-in campaign might be an option for the protestors, but apparently the leaders of the Azadliq bloc are not yet ready to engage in a confrontation with the police.
A four-point resolution was adopted following Sunday’s rally. It includes such demands as annulling and re-running the November 6 parliamentary elections, punishing officials who committed election fraud, freeing prisoners, and ending government pressure on voters and the opposition.
At the same time, a group of opposition activists held an unauthorized rally in the towns of Bilesuvar and Zagatala, where police acted quickly to disperse the crowd and arrested several activists and journalists. The protestors demanded that the election results in their constituencies be annulled. On November 12 the Central Election Commission cancelled the results of the Zagatala constituency, making it the third district where election results were thrown out. Musavat deputy chairman Arif Hacili is a candidate in this race and it is widely believed that he won the vote. In the other two disputed precincts the election results were changed in favor of the opposition candidate.
The Azerbaijani opposition appears set to continue protest actions. The Azadliq bloc has requested permission to hold rallies on November 18, 19, and 20. Furthermore, bloc representatives and supporters plan to hold rallies in front of 100 local election commissions today, November 14, and demonstrations in several regions, including Ali Bayramli, Neftchala, Saatli, Balakan, and Sheki. Hasan Kerimov, head of the Popular Front’s organizational department, informed Yeni Musavat on November 13 that preparations for these events have already begun, although it is not clear if the government will issue the necessary permits. Last week, OSCE representatives urged both the authorities and the opposition to engage in peaceful demonstrations and respect the freedom of assembly.
The opposition is working against the clock to make its objections known before November 26, when the CEC is set to finish its investigation into allegations of election fraud and then pass the final tabulations to the Constitutional Court for approval. The new parliament is set to convene in early December. Thus, as time runs out, the opposition is determined to increase public resistance. In this environment, clashes with police and increasing tensions are likely. Fazil Gazanfaroglu, one of the known opposition winners, told Day.az, “Rallies will not bring success to the opposition.”
The international community continues to work with the government and opposition to facilitate a resolution. Several ambassadors from Western countries met with opposition leaders at the British Embassy on November 11 to discuss political developments in the country (Yeni Musavat, November 12). Local forces believe the Western diplomats are engaged in the negotiations between the government and opposition to secure more seats in the parliament for the opposition as well as to prevent violence during the rallies.