Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 216

On November 5, Azerbaijan held parliamentary elections on a multiparty basis for the second time in its post-Soviet–indeed its national–history. At stake were 100 seats in single mandate districts and twenty-five seats to be contested by party slates countrywide on a proportional basis. The governing Yeni [New] Azerbaijan Party (YAP) could reasonably be expected to win overall, though not by the lopsided majority it had held in the outgoing Milli Majlis.

Twelve days after the balloting, the election returns are far from clear. Local electoral commissions have declared the YAP and other pro-government candidates victorious in an overwhelming majority of the 100 single-mandate districts. The Central Electoral Commission, however, has embarked on a detailed review of the district returns and has already annulled the victory of official candidates in several of those districts on the basis of fraud. Behind the scenes, Western missions are bearing on the authorities to ensure a decent representation of opposition parties in the new Milli Majlis.

On November 14, the CEC made public the returns of the ballot for the twenty-five seats allocated to party slates. It credited the YAP with 62 percent of the votes cast and seventeen seats, the “Reform” Popular Front with 11 percent and four seats, the Civic Solidarity Party with 6 percent and two seats, and the Communist Party of Azerbaijan also with 6 percent and two seats.

The “Reform” Popular Front is one of the two rival Popular Fronts. The Civic Solidarity Party is a small, moderate opposition group, allied with the Popular Front’s Reformers. The Communist Party of Azerbaijan is the most moderate among three rival communist parties.

According to the official returns, other parties failed to clear the 6 percent threshold of parliamentary representation. Isa Gambar’s Musavat Party, regarded as the leading opposition force in the wake of the Popular Front’s split, has been credited with only 5 percent of the votes cast for party slates. Etibar Mamedov’s National Independence Party, the Democratic Party–which is led from Washington by the ex-chairman of parliament, Rasul Guliev–and the tiny Liberal Party of Lala Shovkhet-Hajieva were credited respectively with 4 percent, 1 percent and 1 percent of the votes cast, respectively.

The publication of these returns has prompted the rival opposition parties to form a tactical alliance. Without awaiting the final official returns from the single-mandate districts, six opposition parties signed a joint statement describing the elections as fraudulent and vowing to turn down any seats they gained in the new parliament, cooperate with the aim of annulling the overall election results and holding new elections, and cease “accusations against each other by party leaders or propaganda against each other by the parties through the media.” The signatory parties are the Reform Popular Front, Civic Solidarity, Musavat, National Independence, the Democratic and the Liberal parties. The “Classical” Popular Front–allied to Musavat, and rival to the Reform Popular Front–has joined this common front without signing the common statement.

The six signatory parties are those usually described as “major opposition parties” to distinguish them from the numerous other opposition parties. As the common statement obliquely suggests, the parties are often focused on mutual rivalries. Their leadership intensely personalized, at least three of these parties–Musavat, the National Independence and the Democratic parties–function to some extent as vehicles for their respective leaders’ presidential aspirations. Shovkhet-Hajieva said in his post-election statement: “Had the opposition forces formed an electoral bloc, instead of splitting, they could have achieved significant gains and could have been represented in parliament by weighty leaders. But I must admit with deep regret, as I was saying back in [the presidential election year] 1998, that the opposition is unable to unite. There is a fight for the top slot. I’ve always said that this is our greatest tragedy” (ANS Television, November 7).

The election observer mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), its Office for Democratic Institutions (OSCE/ODIHR) and the Council of Europe (CE) found that the balloting and the vote counting were marred by both chaos and fraud in many precincts. ODIHR’s head Gerard Stoudman in his morning-after statement let slip the word “primitive” to describe the overall handling of the elections at local levels. Observers witnessed ballot box stuffing, misreporting of the vote count and all manner of violations of the law, often perpetrated quite openly by local election officials. Sheer administrative incompetence also cast doubt on the returns in many places.

The overall picture, however, allowed the observers to issue some positive findings as well. The OSCE/ODIHR’s and CE’s preliminary assessment listed some “steps forward” with respect to electoral legislation, the wider participation by political forces in this election compared to previous ones, the improved workings of the CEC and the authorities’ apparent willingness to review the returns and invalidate some of the fraud. The U.S. State Department’s assessment also noted the improvements as well as the glaring flaws. U.S. nongovernmental organizations issued some drastic assessments.

While many Western observers blame these problems–as they do corruption–on the government as such, a Spanish member of the Council of Europe’s observer mission seemed to draw on his own country’s all-too-recent democratic experience when evaluating Azerbaijan’s situation. The Spanish observer, Guillermo Martinez, drew attention to the root problem of political culture: “To conduct democratic elections, you have to be democratic yourselves. Democracy is a culture. I do not think that Azerbaijan has a democratic culture yet.” Martinez went on to underscore the haphazard nature of violations and fraud: “The falsifications were so crude and naive that they can not have been planned by the authorities. If planned, they would have been done better. [But here,] anybody could see what was going on. The ruling party did not need these falsifications to win. It would have won, not with that kind of a majority, but would have won easily without the falsifications. I saw the irregularities in six to eight precincts of the fourteen that I visited. There were also precincts where everything was perfect and clear. That is why I am convinced that the [violations] were done by local party people who tried to offer a bunch of good results to the [New Azerbaijan] Party” (ANS TV, November 6).

For the moment, any final international judgment seems to be held in abeyance, pending the publication of final returns and the authorities’ handling of violations and fraud (Survey based on the Azerbaijani media’s election and post-election coverage, November 5-16; see the Monitor, November 3).

The Monitor is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation. It is researched and written under the direction of senior analysts Jonas Bernstein, Vladimir Socor, Stephen Foye, and analysts Ilya Malyakin, Oleg Varfolomeyev and Ilias Bogatyrev. If you have any questions regarding the content of the Monitor, please contact the foundation. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at, by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4516 43rd Street NW, Washington DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of the Monitor is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation Site Maintenance by Johnny Flash Productions