15/10/2003 - Results
Ilham Aliev, son of the outgoing president Heydar Aliev was elected to lead Azerbaijan on 15th October with 79.55% of the vote in comparison with 12.10% for his main adversary Issa Gambar, leader of the Moussavat Party (Equality). Six other personalities stood in this presidential election. The participation rate was 70.10%.
"Azerbaijan needs peace, stability, economic development and integration into the international community. The country must not take up again with war, civil war, chaos and anarchy. I have confidence in my victory. People will vote for stability", declared Ilham Aliev as he went to vote. His victory heralds the establishment of the first family succession in a Republic of the former Soviet Union that became independent on 18th October 1991. The new president promised to adhere in all ways to the political direction initiated by his father without changing neither the country's present direction nor the governing team. Ilham Aliev will have to face up to two main problems: the conflict in the Nagorny Karabakh and the disastrous economic situation (one Azeri in two lives with less than one dollar per day) whilst the country enjoys billions of dollars in investment and is showing promising economic (growth reached 10% per year, inflation is lower than 2% and the public deficit is less than 2% of the GDP).
Political analysts agree on one point: Ilham Aliev is less authoritarian and more modern than his father. It is possibly for this reason that some of them only see in him a figure of transition. Indeed many maintain that the real danger for the new president will not come from the opposition but from within the ruling clan that comprises rival groups and whose leaders have both an enormous political experience and major financial resources. The new president will now have to face this coalition of interests. For the thirty years that he was in power Heydar Aliev governed them with an iron hand and a strategic intelligence that his son might however be lacking. For the time being the coalition members in power have rallied around Ilham Aliev. The question remains of knowing whether he will succeed in launching real transition or whether he will fall victim to the political, economic and tribal interests of his closest allies.
Russia welcomed Ilham Aliev's election extremely favourably. Alexandre Volochine, leader of the Russian presidential administration, Vladimir Rouchaïlo, head of security at the Kremlin and Ludmilla Putin, the President's wife each went to Azerbaijan during the electoral campaign to support the Prime Minister. "Ilham Aliev is the right choice", declared Vladimir Putin who had received the former most warmly in Yalta during a summit of the Community of Independent States in September last. The election of the outgoing president's son was also welcomed by the representatives of the main Western oil companies, who are also in favour of the country's continuity and stability and simultaneously the protection of their own interests.
"I'm calling on all the electorate to vote and express their will. Everything has been done for the election to be undertaken in a free, transparent and democratic manner", maintained Mazahir Panakhov, president of the Electoral Commission of Azerbaijan in a televised speech on Election Day. The NGO Human Rights Watch had already confirmed that the electoral campaign had been manipulated in favour of Ilham Aliev and that the government authorities had obstructed meetings held by leaders of the opposition and that they had arrested a number of militants. 628 observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) were in attendance to follow the presidential election. They noted numerous "anomalies", saying that some had voted several times, others were strongly advised to vote for such and such a candidate; there were even some ballot boxes that were over full in comparison with the number of voters enrolled. "This country deserves a better election than this", maintained Peter Eichel, leader of the OSCE delegation, lamenting the "loss of a chance for an authentic and democratic electoral process". Likewise the Council of Europe regretted that "Azerbaijan had once again missed the opportunity to meet European standards in terms of elections". The Council called on the President to "undertake significant democratic reforms based on dialogue with the opposition", and "close the chapter involving political prisoners by the end of the year".
In spite of the agreement made at the end of August on a single candidature opposition forces finally broke from their commitments and stood for this presidential election in a disorganised manner. This dissemination reminded the population of the previous divisions within the Popular Front who were in power when the country was only just independent under President Albubaz Eltchibey and which finally proved fatal to them. The two main candidates from the opposition were Issa Gambar (Moussavat) and Etibar Mammadov, leader of National Independence.
"The authorities will not be able to complete their scenario of falsehoods. I am the winner and I cannot accept theft, but we do not intend to resolve this problem with violence, we shall solve it by people fighting for their vote", declared Issam Gambar when the first results were released. Around 50,000 people demonstrated on Sunday 12th October in Bakou the capital in protest against Ilham Aliev's candidature. Issa Gambar also called on opposition sympathisers to protest on 15th October outside of the polling stations and to remain there until the final count had been made in order to avoid any cheating. In the days leading up to the election Ilham Aliev had warned the authorities would take vigorous measures if there were cases of public disorder once the results had been announced. Confrontations, that caused one death and more than 80 injured, took place on Wednesday evening. Hundreds of sympathisers gathered before the seat of the Moussavat Party to provide support to Issa Gambar before being pushed back by the police. Ali Akhmedov, the executive secretary of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) qualified the demonstration as "an attempt to take power by force". Two hundred people were arrested. The leader of the Uzmid Party, Igbal Agazadé, was also arrested two days later on Friday 17th October. The opposition leader was previously deprived of his mandate as MP during an exceptional session in Parliament requested by the Public Prosecutor and therefore could not take advantage of his parliamentary immunity. According to Peter Bouckaert from the organisation Human Rights Watch, a number of arrests, notably of executives from the Moussavat Party, also took place in various regions across the country.
"If Ilham Aliev manages to maintain the peace he will have passed his first exam. If he manages to drive out the clans in power, who will continue to try and enrich themselves, he will have passed the second. If he manages to reform the economy and solve the problem of the Nagorny Karabakh, he will truly be a great President", declared Eldar Mamazov, former secretary general of the Presidency, who resigned from his post in 1999 in protest against the regime's democratic shortcomings. "Azerbaïdjan is a boiling cauldron. The lid is not as heavy as it used to be. It remains to be seen whether it will be sufficient to keep the steam in", concluded a former adviser to Heydar Aliev.