As Azerbaijan’s ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party celebrates the fourth anniversary of Ilham Aliyev’s presidency, political parties and groupings in the country are already looking ahead to the 2008 presidential election.
On September 19, leaders of Musavat, one of the main opposition parties in the country, announced that its chairman, Isa Gambar, would stand as their candidate for the upcoming presidential elections. Gambar, who lost to Aliyev in 2003, decided not to boycott the next round of elections as some other parties intend to. Instead, on October 14 Arif Hacili, deputy chairman of the party, told Day.az news agency, “The boycott would be a gift to the ruling party.” A top ranking Musavat official, who preferred to remain anonymous, told EDM that the party’s decision is motivated by geopolitical factors. “There are a lot of things going on in the region these days. The situation around Iran is getting worse and worse, Georgian domestic stability is under question. Russia will have presidential elections in 2008. So will the U.S. Thus, many things can change in the region and that is why we don’t want to stay out of the game.”
The opposition forces in Azerbaijan continue to suffer as a result of their stubborn reliance on outside powers and geopolitical games. While it is somewhat understandable, because they lack resources for capacity building and grassroots activities, this mentality hinders their creativity and increases the hopes for outside interference.
The other major opposition force in the country, the Azadliq bloc, which unites the Popular Front, Liberals, and a few smaller parties, has not decided what to do in the presidential race. However, over the past several months the bloc has indicated that it would prefer a boycott. On October 17, media outlets reported that Musavat and the Popular Front had begun talks on a unified approach to the elections and that the deputy chairmen of both parties, Arif Hacili and Gulamhuseyn Alibeyli, have been given mandates to hold preliminary talks. Relations between the two parties have been cold since the 2005 parliamentary elections.
However, both parties continue to experience internal fragmentations. On October 20, one of the most senior officials of the Musavat party, Nasib Nasibly, resigned from the party’s supreme council to protest Musavat joining the European Liberal-Democratic alliance. Gambar said that “he was surprised by this move” (Day.az, September 23). At the same time, the party’s Supreme Council chairman, Sulhetdin Akbar, continues to face opposition from his fellow party comrades Hacili and Rauf Arifoglu.
The ruling party, meanwhile, has been sending out signals about its own internal instability. The Azadliq newspaper reported on October 20 that a new ruling party is being established with the support of Baku’s population. Apparently, some initial meetings with voters have taken place, according to the newspaper. This news has further increased the tensions within the higher echelons of the ruling party, as the so-called old guard becomes frustrated with the policies of President Aliyev. Many of the representatives found themselves outside of parliament following the 2005 elections and the party has detected a cold attitude from the president, who prefers to rely on his inner circle of friends and loyalists rather than the party, which was established by the older generation of neo-apparatchiks. The last meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers on October 22 was a tense one, as President Aliyev bashed ministers and oligarchs with criticism for creating monopolies, violating traffic rules, and creating favorable conditions for themselves and their families. A Day.az commentary on the following day noted that this seems to be an indication of upcoming personnel changes within the government.
Nevertheless, Ali Ahmadov, the executive secretary and first deputy chairman of the party, told the media in September that Ilham Aliyev is the party’s only candidate and that his victory in the elections will come without any doubts.
This visible unity of the party is likely to remain high next year, despite some internal dissatisfaction. The availability of large amounts of oil revenues allows President Aliyev to stay on top of the political agenda and keep high approval ratings with his massive investments in social programs and infrastructure building. Thus, next year’s elections are likely to follow the 2003 scenario, although with even fewer chances for the opposition.