Etibar Mammadov, the long-time chairman of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party (ANIP) and one of the most influential opposition leaders in Azerbaijan, announced his resignation from his party position on December 24. His decision came as a surprise not only to other political parties, but also to his fellow party members in ANIP.
Mammadov is one of the most prominent politicians in post-Soviet Azerbaijan. A leader of the anti-communist movement in the late 1980s, Mammadov founded the ANIP in 1992 and served as a member of parliament until 2000. In 1998 he became the first runner-up in the presidential elections, posing a serious threat to then-president Heydar Aliev.
In an interview with ASN-TV on December 26, Mammadov justified his decision with the urgent need to create opportunities for other party members to come up with new initiatives and strengthen the party. “Members of the party often rely on a party leader to solve the problems of the party. This creates a sense of passivity in them. Maybe my resignation will open opportunities for civic initiative and break this stagnation in the society,” he explained.
Since the announcement, local media and political analysts have speculated about the true reasons behind this political move. Some believe that Mammadov is trying to repair his personal image of “perpetual opposition” and build bridges with the ruling elite in order to get some sort of governmental position. Others believe that he is attempting to distance himself from the party, which has significantly weakened since its defeat in the October 2003 presidential elections. In that race, Mammadov gathered only 3% of the vote. Several deputy chairmen, local chapter leaders, and other prominent members of ANIP resigned from the party afterwards. ANIP was the only major opposition force to contest the December 19, 2004, municipal elections, which ended as another fiasco for the party.
In his formal statement, dated December 27, Mammadov officially laid out the reasons behind his resignation: “. . . in order to provide a stimulation to society in general and ANIP in particular, according to the new times, and to help the creation of new initiatives and uninhibited conditions for the authors of these initiatives, I decided to dismiss traditional methods of action and resign as a chairman. I believe that by providing more involvement in the process of decision-making and implementation inside the party, this initiative will also serve as a stimulus for political mobilization of the society.”
Meanwhile, other parties in the country have had different reactions to this news. The ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party (YAP) has stated that the time has come to change all opposition leaders, as they have lost the trust of the majority of the population. Executive secretary of YAP Ali Ahmadov told the Xalq Qazeti newspaper on December 27, “The resignation of Mammadov is an indication of the trouble that the whole opposition finds itself in.” Opposition parties have refrained from issuing specific opinions regarding this issue, but the opposition daily Yeni Musavat has suggested, “Mammadov’s statement brought more uncertainty to the issue than before.” With this wording, the newspaper is hinting that there is something that Mammadov is hiding behind his resignation.
On January 9, the ANIP Supreme Council will decide when an extraordinary Congress of the party will be held to elect a new chairman. Tentatively the congress is set for February. Ali Aliev, the deputy chairman of ANIP, will serve as interim chairman.