OPPOSITION HOVERS ON THRESHOLD OF NEW PARLIAMENT.
Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 221
Azerbaijan’s central authorities have completed a review of the returns from the November 5 parliamentary elections, which were marred by tampering on the part of local authorities. The Central Electoral Commission and the Constitutional Court have annulled the victories of pro-government candidates in eleven single-mandate districts, out of the ninety-nine in which the elections were held. The two panels also revised the returns from the proportional contest, awarding one extra seat to the opposition. The Commission and the Court have scheduled repeat elections in the eleven single-mandate constituencies in January. That should increase somewhat the opposition’s meager representation in the 125-seat Milli Majlis.
The completion of the review enabled the newly elected parliament to convene on November 24, with 101 deputies attending. Apart from the eleven vacant seats, most of the opposition’s seats also stood empty because its leaders stand by their earlier decision to boycott the parliament. As presently constituted, the chamber includes: seventy-two deputies of the ruling Yeni [New] Azerbaijan Party (YAP); twenty-five nonparty deputies, most of them with pro-government leanings; and fourteen deputies from opposition parties, including six from the two rival Popular Fronts, three from the Civic Solidarity Party, two from Musavat, two from the Communist Party and one from the National Independence Party.
Widespread speculation that President Haidar Aliev’s son, Ilham Aliev, would be catapulted to the parliament’s chairmanship was not borne out. Under the constitution, in the event of a presidential vacancy, the chairman of the Milli Majlis becomes acting head of state and calls a presidential election. The speculative scenarios envisaged that the president and YAP leaders would prearrange Ilham’s succession to the presidency by making him chairman of parliament, from which post Ilham could stage and win a presidential election, should the 77-year old Haidar Aliev be unable to serve out his term of office until 2003.
The Milli Majlis, however, reelected Murtuz Aleskerov as its chairman with near-unanimity after the president had met with the YAP deputies. One of Ilham Aliev’s closest associates, YAP Executive Secretary Ali Ahmadov, nominated Aleskerov for the speaker’s post. Aleskerov, 72, a professor of law at Baku University, had chaired the predecessor Milli Majlis from 1996 on, in which post he replaced the powerful Rasul Guliev (see below) when the latter fell out with the president. Aleskerov was among the founders of the original Popular Front, but rallied to Aliev in 1992 when the Popular Front proved incapable of governing. Aleskerov is a native of the northern city of Ganja and comes from a “Yeraz” family–that is, Azeris who were forced out of Armenia proper, before the Karabakh conflict. The local background is often a defining element in the politics of Azerbaijan.
Within the opposition, Musavat and the “Classical” Popular Front are classifiable as radical while the “Reform” Popular Front, Civic Solidarity and the National Independence Party are considered more amenable to working within the existing system for its gradual reformation. The parliamentary Communist Party of Azerbaijan for its part is distinctly more moderate than the two rival, nonparliamentary communist parties.
The election’s aftermath has seen more signs of disunity in the opposition’s ranks. The Popular Front’s “Classics” and “Reformers” are suing each other for the right of legal succession to the original Popular Front. Ali Kerimov’s “Reformers,” allied with Sabir Rustamkhanly’s Civic Solidarity Party, signed a cooperation agreement last week with Etibar Mamedov’s National Independence Party. The leaders asserted that they were forming a “new center of gravity” within the opposition–a barely veiled allusion to their rivalry with Musavat. The Musavat Party claims the primacy among the opposition parties, while its “Bashkhan” (Leader) Isa Gambar vies with Mamedov and others for the role of opposition candidate in the next presidential election. Musavat has expelled the parliamentary deputy Vahit Samadoglu, a nationally known writer, from its ranks because he is attending the Milli Majlis instead of boycotting it.
The well-financed Democratic Party (DP), led from Washington by the wealthy former parliamentary chairman Rasul Guliev (see above), has split into its two original components. The DP’s co-chairman Ilias Ismailov and his supporters have departed in order to reestablish their former Justice Party, leaving the other co-chairman, Sardar Jalaloglu, with a rump DP in the radical opposition’s camp.
Opposition parties are formally committed to demanding that the November 5 elections be annulled and that new elections be held. Meanwhile, these parties are airing conflicting claims with regard to their respective scores in the elections. Musavat claims to have alone garnered some 60 percent of the votes cast nation-wide. Musavat’s ally, the “Classical” Popular Front, claims for itself a part of those 60 percent. The “Reform” Popular Front initially claimed nearly 30 percent as well, and even the tiny Liberal Party of Lala Shovket-Hajieva claims 10 percent. Apparently, party leaders present election protocols from precincts in which their own party did best, and extrapolate from such local returns to exaggerate their respective parties’ countrywide performance. From November 5 to date, the leaders have attempted in vain to reconcile those potentially competing claims through an exchange of the precinct protocols in their possession.
The third week of November saw several protest demonstrations in provincial small town and villages on the outskirts of Baku. The protests centered on local grievances of a social and economic character and have not continued. The opposition has on the whole behaved responsibly in not trying to politicize or exacerbate those protests. Some opposition deputies seem inclined to take up their parliamentary seats after a decent interval, possibly depending on the results of the repeat elections in January (Turan, ANS, Azer-Habar, Space Television, Zerkalo, November 22-27; see the Monitor, November 3, 17, 22).
The Monitor is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation. It is researched and written under the direction of senior analysts Jonas Bernstein, Vladimir Socor, Stephen Foye, and analysts Ilya Malyakin, Oleg Varfolomeyev and Ilias Bogatyrev. If you have any questions regarding the content of the Monitor, please contact the foundation. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4516 43rd Street NW, Washington DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of the Monitor is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation Site Maintenance by Johnny Flash Productions