Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 63

A series of high-level arrests, court trials, and expulsions from the ruling party in Azerbaijan OVER the last month has stirred up tensions in the higher echelons of power and once again created rumors and speculation that the ruling party is collapsing. Casual observers and political pundits alike have treated these developments with caution and concern, believing that the country’s political stability might be at stake.

Yet, all of these developments amount to nothing more than a generational shift within the ruling party. Those who expected radical cadre changes from President Ilham Aliyev upon his election to the presidency in 2003 were disappointed with the slow pace of reforms. Time, however, showed that in a politically sensitive and complex region, a sudden housecleaning of the old cadre would generate a new opposition force in the country. Instead, President Aliyev let the passage of time and regular political processes in the country shape his cadre policy.

On March 27 Siruz Tebrizli, a former member of parliament and one of the founders of the ruling party Yeni Azerbaijani Party (YAP), was expelled from the party’s supreme council at an emergency meeting. Among the reasons cited for his expulsion were public speeches and activities contrary to the party line and charter. Tebrizli, a prominent political figure in the country and long-time Heydar Aliyev loyalist, used a book presentation two weeks ago in Baku to verbally attack President Aliyev’s inner circle and to criticize the situation in the country in general.

Local experts believe that Tebrizli’s speech was an indicator of a growing displeasure with the current political order in the country by the so-called old guard, members of the late president Heydar Aliyev’s team, who have been marginalized since the election of President Ilham Aliyev, Heydar’s son. In early March former minister of health Ali Insanov, another prominent YAP figure, was put on trial for corruption and abuse of office, bringing the efforts to humiliate members of the “old guard” into full public view.

Another prominent member of YAP’s old guard, Jalal Aliyev, a member of parliament and Heydar’s brother, has been rumored to be at odds with his nephew, President Aliyev. The opposition newspaper Musavat even reported that Jalal Aliyev had been put under house arrest, which would explain why he has not attended the sessions of parliament for many months. Other media outlets regularly report about the closure of businesses belonging to Jalal.

Considering the growing number of ostracized “old guard” members, it did not come as a surprise when local media began to report the establishment of an opposition party in Azerbaijan, one that would unite both Insanov and Jalal Aliyev. Insanov’s supporters have even planned their first public rally, to be held in Azadliq Square in the center of Baku. Last month, they joined an opposition rally that the Musavat party had organized to protest against the ruling regime. They have even begun to chant revolutionary slogans, for which the head of a popular “Committee for the Protection of Ali Insanov’s Rights” was summoned to the prosecutor’s office.

Both Insanov and Jalal Aliyev deny the creation of such an opposition party, but it is certain that both of them possess a significant support base. If such a new opposition party were created, it would play a significant role in domestic politics and could become a serious headache for President Aliyev. To pre-empt this concern, the authorities seized Insanov’s possessions and property on March 15, leaving him unable to fund any newly created party. Local analysts also believe that the arrest of Huseyn Abdullayev, another member of parliament and known for his close links to Jalal Aliyev, also is tied to these active measures by the central authorities to undermine the efforts of the former YAP members to create a new party.

The latest developments prove the risks of cadre reforms in Azerbaijan. President Aliyev is stronger than ever, but he still has to walk a safe path in order to continue to modernize the ruling elite while not creating powerful enemies at the same time.

(Azadliq, Yeni Musavat, Echo, Zerkalo, Day.az, Trend, March 15-30)