As anticipated on the basis of Azerbaijani precedent (see the Monitor, November 3), overzealous local officials served the government poorly by inflating the victory margin of the ruling party in the November 5 parliamentary elections. Seventeen days after balloting day, the overall returns have yet to be released, and, when they are, they will almost certainly be contested. Other than the Communist Party, the opposition parties officially credited with winning seats in the new Milli Majlis have vowed to boycott it. Should they make good on that threat, the new parliament would risk being denied international recognition, in which case the government and the presidency would also face international criticism.
All this leaves President Haidar Aliev with the onus of seeking political ways out of the deadlock. Baku’s political circles know that the president is concerned over possible damage to his achievements and historic legacy–namely, internal stability and close relations with the West. But the president has made no public comment on the political situation since election day.
The authorities and Western missions in Baku seem to be working quietly together toward a partial revision of the election’s results to allow for more than token representation of the opposition in the 125-seat parliament. The Central Electoral Commission has annulled the victories of official candidates in at least four electoral districts, and seems set to announce a few more annulments. The Council of Europe has given Azerbaijan’s government until December 8 to report on what it has done to investigate and correct the electoral fraud. Presentation of a satisfactory report is one of the conditions attached to Azerbaijan’s admission as a member of the Council of Europe.
Some senior officials on the presidential staff and in the ruling Yeni [New] Azerbaijan Party (YAP) are trying to dismiss concerns over fraud and even asserting that the elections were basically democratic and fair. Undermining other officials’ quiet search for a solution, those uncompromising statements also hurt the authorities’ credibility with the West and risk to preclude a dialogue with the moderate opposition groups. Prior to the elections, those groups–notably the “Reform” Popular Front and Etibar Mamedov’s National Independence Party (NIP)–had seemed prepared for a post-election political agreement with the authorities on the basis of shared goals, particularly with regard to foreign, foreign economic, and regional security policies.
Such an agreement would have broadened the basis for internal political consensus as well. And it would have left such nationalist opposition forces as Musavat and the “Classical” Popular Front to choose either isolation or adjustment to a new political environment, in which confrontation tactics would no longer have made sense. The death of the Popular Front’s intransigent leader Abulfaz Elchibey in August, the ensuing split in the Front, and Musavat’s own ambitions increased divisions among opposition parties and, by the same token, those developments enhanced the chances for an accommodation between moderate groups and the authorities.
The handling of the parliamentary elections has, however, seriously damaged those prospects. The threat of marginalization–implicit in the official election returns–has pushed the “Reform” Popular Front and the NIP toward a renewed alliance with the radical opposition. Although the opposition remains fragmented by old and even some fresh rifts, its main forces now jointly demand that the elections be annulled and that new elections be held. The authorities for their part rule out any general annulment while moving very slowly to reallocate a few seats to opposition candidates. But even with such corrections, it will be more difficult for the moderate opposition to deal with the authorities in the aftermath of these elections. Had the YAP contented itself with a less lopsided victory, it would have been better placed to deal with the moderate and pro-Western opposition groups.
The “Reform” Popular Front, the NIP, and the Civic Solidarity Party are by no means willing allies of the radical opposition, the strategy of which aims to prepare the candidacy of Musavat leader Isa Gambar for the 2003 presidential election. In rejecting the returns of the November 5 parliamentary balloting, Gambar and other Musavat leaders consistently claim that their party won 60 percent of the votes cast, to some 20 percent for the YAP. Those claims would seem to confine the moderate opposition parties to a role virtually as marginal as that implied in the official election returns. In this situation, the moderate opposition and the authorities would seem to be in equal need of accommodation on mutually acceptable political terms (Roundup based on the Azerbaijani media’s post-election coverage, November 15-21; see the Monitor, November 3, 17).
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