Yesterday was the deadline for submission of lists of signatures on behalf of aspirants to Azerbaijan’s presidency in the election scheduled for October. President Haidar Aliev and eight aspirants, seeking registration as candidates, submitted the signature lists to the Central Electoral Commission. The leaders of the five main opposition parties–collectively referred to as the “quintet”–were not among those seeking registration. They reaffirmed yesterday their oft-stated intention to boycott the election unless the authorities make sweeping concessions to guarantee a free and fair balloting. The Communist Party also announced yesterday that it would boycott the election.
The “quintet” leaders are: the Popular Front’s Abulfaz Elchibey, president of the country in 1992-93; Musavat party’s Isa Gambar, who headed the parliament during that period; the Liberal Party’s Lala Shovket, a former advisor to Aliev; Rasul Guliev, who was forced out as chairman of parliament in 1996 after falling out with Aliev; and the leaders of the Democratic Party, which represents the wealthy expatriate Guliev’s interests in Azerbaijan.
Aliev has made a series of significant concessions. His docile parliament has amended the electoral law, meeting the opposition’s demands to its satisfaction. Last week, the authorities abolished the institution of press censorship; they only reserved the right to protect military secrets. Yesterday, the prosecutor’s office terminated an investigation against Gambar, which had officially been in progress since the 1993 but had in fact been held in abeyance since. An investigation against Guliev, on charges of major embezzlement, is still being pursued.
Thus far, the authorities have not met the opposition’s demand to change the law on the operation of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) and of the local commissions. The opposition seeks to ensure transparency of the commissions’ operations at all levels and to reorganize the CEC on the basis of numerical parity. The authorities have appointed seventeen of their supporters to the 24-seat CEC while reserving six seats for the opposition. The CEC’s chairman, Jafar Valiev, served in a similar capacity during the 1995 parliamentary elections, which were marred by widespread irregularities. In addition, the opposition seeks an end to harassment of its supporters by local authorities and the release of “political prisoners.” The authorities argue that the detainees in question were, in fact, convicted for involvement in the armed coup attempts of past years. (Turan, Assa-Irada, August 10 and 11)
Aliev, who expects reelection by a wide margin under any circumstances, has every interest in legitimizing that reelection by ensuring the opposition’s participation. The opposition leaders for their part have all along seemed reluctant to face the electorate. The record of the 1992-93 government is remembered as a dismal one, and today’s “quintet” seems unable, even at this late stage, to agree on a joint candidacy. The opposition’s threats to boycott the election have thus far served to pressure Aliev into concessions. As the election date approaches, however, the boycott threats become increasingly difficult to revoke. The opposition is already beginning to argue that it no longer has sufficient time to conduct its electoral campaign even if the authorities grant its remaining demands.
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