Azerbaijan is holding its presidential election on schedule on October 11, despite a boycott by the best-known opposition leaders and their recent demands to postpone the balloting. Five candidates are running against the incumbent President Haidar Aliev and against the odds. Prior to the campaign and during its early stages, the boycotters had described the five challengers in the race as presidential auxiliaries who were supposed to lend the election a mere semblance of pluralism.
In any event, the candidates have proven to be anything but stooges of Aliev. They have given the president a hard time on television and in public rallies during a heated and often inflammatory electoral campaign. They have accused Aliev of tolerating or even encouraging official corruption at the top level and in the provincial administrations, appointing cronies to public office, “dishonoring” Azerbaijan by failing to liberate Karabakh, concluding unfavorable oil contracts with international companies, and presiding over the impoverishment of the populace. Moreover, the candidates have sought to channel against Aliev the discontent of the estimated 700,000 refugees from Armenian-occupied territories, who live in appalling conditions in Azerbaijan and constitute a sizable share of the electorate.
Apart from the 43-year-old Etibar Mamedov, a likely runner-up in the October 11 balloting (see Mamedov’s profile in the Monitor, September 22), the candidates are:
–Nizami Suleimanov, 55, leader of the Independent Azerbaijan Party, was the runner-up to Aliev in the 1993 presidential election. Five years later, Suleimanov acknowledges Aliev’s merits as president, but describes him as having outlived his usefulness and urges him to step down in the national interest. Suleimanov promises to reduce taxes on the private sector; raise many-fold the salaries and pensions of state-employed teachers, physicians and civil servants; create jobs through government spending; increase military spending; turn the army from a defensive into an offensive organization, and institute general and mandatory military training.
Suleimanov would form a coalition government of all major parties if he is elected president. In that case, Suleimanov would give “Armenia” six months to a year to return Karabakh and adjacent areas, failing which Azerbaijan would “shed blood” in a “total war.” Suleimanov’s current stance contrasts to the conciliatory position he had taken in the 1993 presidential race on the Karabakh conflict (Zerkalo (Baku), August 29; Assa-Irada, September 17; Azerbaijani TV, September 2, 5, 9, 16, 19, October 2).
–Ashraf Mehdiev, 64, chairman of the Association of Victims of Political Repression [under communism] proposes to call a referendum on replacing parliament with a “people’s council” and shift the emphasis onto the agricultural sector in the country’s development strategy. He would institute “constant state control” over the oil sector, revise the country’s oil contracts with international companies and limit the duration of such contracts to only a few years.
Mehdiev says that he would also “liberate Karabakh faster than Suleimanov” by force of arms; and he would require Armenia to pay war damages to Azerbaijan. As part of the same scenario, he would demand the formation of an Azeri autonomous republic in Armenia’s Zangezur district, in order to provide a territorial link between the heartland of Azerbaijan and its Nakhichevan exclave.
He would, moreover, set the goal of transferring Iran’s Azeri-populated region to Azerbaijan, and change the name of Azerbaijan to “Northern Azerbaijan” to emphasize that goal.
With election day approaching, Mehdiev has endorsed the demand for a three-month postponement and creation of “fair conditions” for the contest. He has promised to cooperate with “all democratic forces”–apparently a reference to the boycotting leaders–if the election is rescheduled (Millat (Baku), September 3; Azerbaijani TV, September 9, 11, 15, and 18; Turan, September 22 and 29, October 5; Assa-Irada, September 29, October 2, 5).
–Firudin Hasanov, 48, leader of the Communist Party-2 (one of Azerbaijan’s rival communist parties), opposes the “capitalist transformation” of Azerbaijan and offers the alternative of “social justice” in a “progressive socialist society.” Abjuring the use of “revolutionary methods,” Hasanov promises a “humane” and “civilized socialism” which would differ from the Soviet model. These slogans are at odds with Hasanov’s own professions of support for the Russian communists. He anticipates the communists’ return to power in Russia and expects them to resolve the Karabakh conflict in Azerbaijan’s favor, provided that Baku draws closer to Moscow. Ironically, Armenia’s communist leader Sergey Badalian maintains that the Russian communists would settle the conflict on Armenia’s terms if Armenia is faithful to Russia.
The Communist Party-1 boycotts the election and describes Hasanov as a “traitor” for participating in the race. The CP-1, like the anticommunist boycotting parties, considers the election conditions unfair, and the outcome predetermined in Haidar Aliev’s favor (Zerkalo (Baku), August 29; Azerbaijani TV, September 2, 3, 12, 17, 19, October 1; Assa-Irada, September 17; Turan, September 29, October 5 6).
–Khanhusein Kazymly, 56, leader of the Social Welfare Party, is employed as an economist on the staff of parliament. Kazymly is a lackluster candidate who advocates closer ties to Iran and the Islamic world, expresses mistrust of the West, criticizes the transition to the market economy and calls for ample state programs to support the poor strata of society (Azerbaijani TV, September 3, 7, 10, October 2).
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