Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 173

While the best-known opposition leaders–preeminently former President Abulfaz Elchibey–boycott Azerbaijan’s presidential election, five lesser-known candidates are challenging the 75-year-old President Haidar Aliev. These five succeeded in collecting, each, the required 50,000 voter signatures from various parts of the country in order to qualify for registration as presidential candidates. The candidates are entitled to equal air-time for electoral broadcasts on national television and radio. All are campaigning throughout the country.

Candidate Etibar Mamedov, leader of the National Independence Party (NIP), is a veteran of Elchibey’s Popular Front (PF) who eventually broke with that group. Mamedov has, in the last few years, positioned himself equidistantly between the government and the PF-led opposition. Mamedov seeks–as he did during a pre-electoral visit to the United States–to gain the image of a potential national leader apt to ensure stability in the post-Aliev period.

In his electoral broadcasts and campaign appearances, Mamedov describes Azerbaijan’s body politic as split between a rigid opposition and equally rigid authorities. Warning against the risk of a “revolutionary explosion,” Mamedov and his NIP propose to overcome the political confrontation through evolutionary change. He regards the electoral process as the way toward peaceful change, and faults the radical opposition for refusing to participate in the elections. Mamedov calls for abandoning the method (associated with the Popular Front) of coming to power through mass demonstrations. He calls instead for establishing a tradition of coming to power through elections. He acknowledges President Aliev’s achievements in terms of political stability, armistice with Armenia, consolidation of an independent secular state, initiation of reforms and attracting foreign investment. At the same time, Mamedov points an accusing finger to the concentration of power in Aliev’s hands, presidential control of the legislative and judiciary branches and officially tolerated corruption benefiting a narrow circle. “All this means that stability is fragile and is based on one person, instead of being based on the system.”

His campaign tour of the provinces has led Mamedov to conclude that arbitrary rule by local officials is “an even more serious problem than [he] had imagined.” He maintains that the officials are not accountable to the president, who is content to give them a free hand as long as they maintain “the appearance of stability” in their areas. This system, according to Mamedov, guarantees corruption and makes it impossible to establish the rule of law. Mamedov promises to call municipal and district elections immediately after the presidential election, if he wins it.

Regarding the Karabakh conflict, Mamedov considers that Azerbaijan is negotiating from weakness because it lacks a combat-ready army. He proposes to reform and develop the army and to resume negotiations with Armenia toward a political settlement from a position of military strength (Azerbaijani Television, Channel One, September 1, 4, 9, 11, 15, 18).