Two newly formed election coalitions have awakened Azerbaijan ‘s seemingly indifferent political scene, promising heated parliamentary elections later this year. On January 10, 26 NGOs and representatives from various political parties formed a new election coalition, “Solidarity and Trust.” Ilgar Gasimov, chairman of the public movement ” Alliance in the Name of Azerbaijan ” was elected head of this alliance. Interestingly, the alliance also includes several prominent Azerbaijani oppositionists, coalition can be portrayed as one crossing party lines. For example, the deputy chairman of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party, Maharram Zulfugarly, and the editor-in-chief of the Baki Xeber newspaper and ideological secretary of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party, Aydin Guliyev, both signed up for the new coalition, as did the Amal intelligentsia movement (which is closely linked to Musavat, another opposition party), the Agridag NGO, and the Institute of Peace and Democracy (Turan News Agency, January 10).
Turan quoted Gasimov as saying that the alliance “would contest all 125 seats in the Parliament, but that he had no intentions to run for Parliament himself.” Alliance members pledged to strive for free and fair elections in the country and declared the alliance open to all interested parties. “We already have many members of YAP [the ruling New Azerbaijan Party] and opposition parties who have joined us, especially in the rural areas,” said Gasimov.
Local media and political analysts rushed to label the new coalition as pro-Russian. The independent daily Zerkalo, in its lead article on January 12, described the situation as “The shadow of the Russian eagle hanging over the Azerbaijani parliament.” Gasimov, who worked in Russian Ministry of Justice until his retirement, is somewhat of a “dark horse” in Azerbaijani politics. His organization has been increasingly vocal in the past few years on the issue of Karabakh, and it has organized numerous street rallies in Azerbaijan , Russia , and various European countries, protesting the Armenian occupation. This new move to strengthen his position prior to the parliamentary elections was interpreted by some as the establishment of a new opposition or a sign of Russia ‘s increasing influence in the country. Zerkalo, in the same article, linked the creation of the alliance to the recent events in Ukraine in which the political battle between the two political forces was very much perceived as part of the battle between the West and Russia .
Yet there are also those who scoff at a link between Gasimov and Russia . One opposition member, who knows Gasimov very closely but preferred to stay anonymous, told EDM that Gasimov “is a puppet in the hands of the [Azerbaijani] authorities and that Russia will never put its bets on him.”
Meanwhile, leaders of ADP, Musavat, and the Popular Front met on January 12 to discuss the possibility of forming a joint coalition prior the parliamentary elections and came out of the meeting saying, “In principle, an agreement has been reached” (Echo, January 12). The Azerbaijani opposition has long been known for its inability to unite, which has caused them serious defeats in previous elections, most lately in presidential elections in 2003. Yet, the recent success stories from Georgia and Ukraine seem to have changed the attitude of opposition leaders in the country. “As a result of negotiations [between the Popular Front, Musavat, and ADP parties] it has been agreed to consolidate the opposition and submit unified candidates” Zerkalo quoted Ali Kerimli, chairman of the Popular Front, on January 14.
It is likely that several more coalitions, willing to run for Parliament, will emerge in the next months. Jumshud Nuriyev, a former member of the opposition, has also stated that in March he plans to announce the creation of broad-based political alliance. In this situation, the ability of the ruling party, also known for its internal rivalries, to unite and form a common list of candidates will matter considerably. In any case, the upcoming elections in November promise much life in the once near-dead Azerbaijani political scene.