As was expected in the run-up to last Sunday’s vote, Azerbaijani opposition parties have refused to recognize the legitimacy of the November 6 parliamentary election results and have taken to the streets in protest. On November 9, three days after the election, the main opposition parties — Musavat, Popular Front, and the Democratic Party (aligned as the Freedom bloc) — organized a rally in front of the Galaba movie theater in Baku. Close to 10,000 people attended the rally, waving orange flags, shouting such slogans as “Freedom!” “Resignations!” and “Free Elections!” Other opposition parties and activists not aligned in the Freedom bloc also joined the event (ANS TV, November 9) Major opposition leaders, including Isa Gambar, Ali Kerimli, Lala Shovket Hajiyeva, Arif Hajili, and Sardar Jalaloglu spoke to the crowd, urging the protestors to not recognize the validity of the election results, to fight the regime, and to defend their voices. “We will fight until the end!” shouted Kerimli, the co-founder of the Freedom bloc. The opposition daily Azadliq came out with the headline, “All-National Movement has begun” (Azadliq, November 10).
Because the authorities officially approved the holding of this rally, there were no fights with police forces, although special police units were at the scene. When the rally was nearing its end (it was permitted between 3pm and 6pm), some of the protestors started shouting calls to stay overnight and set up tent camps. But the opposition leaders urged the protestors to go home. This guidance prevented possible clashes with police, which would have to use force to clear the square of demonstrators. In addition, the weather was cold and the opposition members were not prepared to stay there overnight. Aside from flags and banners, the opposition activists did not bring any tents or other materials.
Some local analysts believe that the opposition demonstration felt short of expectations. In particular, the rally was held at a venue that the same opposition groups had rejected using only one month ago. Thus, agreeing to use the venue this time and getting official permission from the authorities, although making the demonstration peaceful and gaining some respect in the eyes of the international community, diminished its power. Second, the rally was delayed due to the opposition’s slowness and their desire to get it sanctioned by the authorities. Many people believe that these delays caused the opposition movement to lose stem, which in turn led to a low turnout.
Meanwhile, the authorities have continued their investigation into charges of election fraud. On November 9, President Ilham Aliyev sacked the regional governors of Sabirabad and Surakahni for their involvement in election misconduct. Similarly, the Prosecutor-General’s Office has detained the chairpersons of the two election districts (9 Binagadi and 42 Sumgait), as well as two precinct election chairs in these districts, for election violations. The Central Election Commission (CEC) annulled the results in these districts on Tuesday. On November 9, CEC also annulled the results of some precincts in the 8 Binagadi election district (www.infocenter.gov.az).
Local experts believe that these cancellations are aimed at creating a basis for bargaining with the opposition. Leaders of the Freedom bloc have announced that they might consider boycotting the new parliament and refuse to take their seats (www.day.az). Isa Gambar, chairman of Musavat, said, “We have not taken a final decision on this, but it remains one of our options” (ANS TV, November 8). Ten Freedom bloc members won seats in Sunday’s elections. One of these members, insisting on anonymity, told Jamestown that he would have to follow the Freedom bloc’s decision on this issue, but personally did not support the idea of a parliamentary boycott. But Lala Shovket Hajiyeva, the leader of the Liberal Party and one of the winning Freedom bloc candidates, said, “If I refused a state secretary position [in 1994], I have no problem turning down one deputy mandate” (www.day.az).
The next opposition rally is planned for Saturday, November 12, although government permission has not yet been granted (Gun, November 9).