13/10/2005 - Analysis
On 6th November next, two years after the election of Ilham Aliev as President of the Republic, the Azerbaijanis will be voting for the 125 members of the National Assembly, the only chamber in their parliament.
Three political blocks dominate the political arena:
- The New Party of Azerbaijan (YAP), at present in power with 75 members sitting in the present Assembly,
- The Azadlig Opposition Block (Freedom), that rallies the Popular Front of Azerbaijan led by Ali Kerimli, Moussavat led by Isa Gamba and the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan whose leader is Rasoul Gouliev,
- The New Political Block (YES), led by Eldar Namazov.
The New Party of Azerbaijan promotes the continuation of the policy led by the government whilst the Azadlig Opposition Block is campaigning on the need for change in the country. "We consider these elections as an opportunity for a change in regime, the first step in the changes needed by this country. The first step will be achieved by the conquest of Parliament," repeated its leader Ali Kerimli. In the opinion of the President of the Republic Ilham Aliev, elected as Head of State on 15th October 2003 with 79.55% of the vote (versus 12.10% for his adversary Isa Gambar) in an election that was marred by a number of irregularities according to the international organisations responsible for their conformity with democratic standards – the opposition is led by "a group of losers. They have lost every presidential election and all of the general elections between 1993 and 2003," he maintained.
On its creation in April last the New Political Block positioned itself as the third force designed to bring together voters disappointed by the ruling government as well as by the opposition. Its programme, entitled "From authoritarianism to democracy, from corruption to a State of Law," is highly critical of the Ilham Aliev regime. However some of its militants are former members of the communist "nomenklatura" which according to its leader Eldar Namazov, shows that "the New Political Block is not founded on opposition at all costs but also on reconciliation." Amongst its ranks the Block includes the former President of the Republic (1990-1992) Ayaz Mutalibov, at present in exile in Russia and candidate in the general elections on 6th November next. The latter has been accused of several crimes by the Azerbaijani authorities including his inertia when the population was massacred in 1990 and 1992 by the Soviet army in Baku, the organisation of an attack against the President of the Republic Heydar Aliev in 1996 and the preparation of a "coup d'Etat" in 2001. His immunity was lifted on 6th September last by the courts, in the ilk of the president of the Democratic Party Rasoul Gouliev, former president of Parliament accused of embezzlement of State funds and who has been in exile at present in the USA since 1996. Political analyst Zardoucht Alizade believes that Rasoul Gouliev is the "only person capable of launching an "orange revolution" in Azerbaijan." The return to Azerbaijan of Ayaz Mutalibov and Rasoul Gouliev is planned for this month.
The Political System
On 25th August 2002 97.3% of Azerbaijanis approved by referendum 39 amendments to the Constitution that, according to the authorities, were designed to modernise the Fundamental Law and bring it in line with European norms and international treaties. One of the amendments abolished proportional representation in the general elections; until then 25 of the 125 members of the National Assembly were elected in this way. On 6th November next the 125 representatives will be elected in a single round by majority suffrage.
2016 candidates –a majority of whom are standing independently, with the others being from 47 blocks or parties – are in the running versus 400 during the last elections on 5th November 2000 and 7th January 2001. "The number of candidates bears witness to the people's confidence in the democratic running of these elections," declared the President of the Republic Ilham Aliev. 927 candidates belong to no definite political party. 434 belong to the New Azerbaijan Party, 115 are members of the Azadlig Block, 74 to the New Political Block, 61 to the Liberal Party (ALP) and 49 to the National Independence Party (AMIP), founded and let by Etibar Mammadov. Each candidate will receive from the State a million mantas (i.e. 200 euro) in order to cover his electoral campaign expenses. In addition to this candidates who belong to the blocks for whom candidates standing in more than 60 districts will enjoy three hours of airtime on state TV and on the government channel AzTV, in addition to this their programme will be published free of charge by the State newspapers. The New Azerbaijan Party, the Azadlig Block, the New Political Block and the Milli Birlik Movement (National Unity) will be the only ones to benefit from this offer.
The Electoral Campaign
"These elections are very important from the point of view of the democratic development of Azerbaijan. I believe that the campaign will take place normally. Each candidate will enjoy the necessary conditions in order to campaign but within the framework of the law," promised the President of the Republic who declared that "these elections are not being undertaken to assume power because Azerbaijan is a presidential republic." The President believes that a revolution like those that have taken place in Georgia (November 2003) or in the Ukraine (December 2004) is unconceivable in his country where the population's standard of living was constantly growing. Finally he clearly implied that he would stand before the electorate for a second term in office as president. "In 2008 I shall explain myself to the people and announce my future programme," he declared.
The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and the Bureau for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) recently published a report that maintains that the Azerbaijani electoral code does not meet the standards of either the Council of Europe or the OSCE. The report does observe however some positive points. Hence 93% of Azerbaijani citizens have received their national identity card, a vital document if they want to carry out their duty as a citizen on 6th November. Likewise the Central Electoral Commission, as planned, put online the list of the four and a half million voters.
The first weeks of the electoral campaign that officially started on 14th September gave rise to tension between the ruling party and the opposition forces. Three youth movement leaders were arrested in August and September and public demonstrations organised by the opposition led to clashes between demonstrators and the police. On 10th September the Azadlig Block organised a demonstration in Baku to request real democratic elections, a fair electoral campaign, the modification of the composition of the Electoral Commission and the permission for exiled politicians to return. According to the party more than 80,000 people (between 20 and 40, 000 according to the press) took part in this rally, most of them dressed in orange, the colour that symbolises the Ukrainian revolution of December 2004. On 25th September, slightly less than one thousand people marched in the streets of the capital, once more on request of the Azadlig Block, to call on the government to resign. According to Ali Kerimli 225 demonstrators from his party were arrested during this demonstration. The association "Reporters sans Frontières" wrote a letter on 25th September last to the Azerbaijani Home Minister in protest against the violence suffered by journalists. "This violence bears witness once more to the atmosphere of insecurity that has set in Azerbaijan just before the general elections," it wrote. On 1st October around seven hundred people demonstrated again in the streets of Baku to ask for free, clear, democratic elections. Ten journalists were attacked by the police as they covered the demonstration.
In addition to this Sahib Husseinov, a Azadlig Block candidate was beaten up by unknown attackers in front of the Electoral Commission of Nehram in Nakhitchevan. Six candidates from the same party started a hunger strike in September in protest against the situation forced on the opposition parties in this electoral campaign and the prohibition of demonstrations. This strike became a relay; when the six candidates stopped their action six others took their place.
Ramin Taghuiev, Vice-President of the organisation Yeni Fikir, accused of planning a "coup d'Etat" was sentenced to three months in prison. According to his lawyer his arrest was ordered to put an end to the youth organisation's activities, and because of what his client said in a cafe in Goytchay, a town in the centre of the country. In addition to this, Rouslan Bachirli, president of Yeni Fikir, is at present in prison accused of collaborating with the Armenian secret services, Said Nouriev, vice-President of the movement was also accused of plotting against the State and was sent to hospital after his arrest. Finally the adviser to the Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister, Sergueï Evtouchenko, member of Pora, as well as an Estonian citizen were banned from entering Azerbaijan mid-September as they travelled to a conference on the situation in Azerbaijan and Belarus on the invitation of the Azadlig Block.
5,000 local observers and 125 international observers are to monitor the general elections on 6th November. The Council of Europe has sent 43 people to study the situation on the eve of the election.
On 18th September, the representatives of the various political parties met before the TV cameras for a first debate. The Secretary General of the New Azerbaijan Party, Ali Akhmedov was pleased to say that in the twelve years that his party has ruled most of the country's problems have been solved. Isa Gambar, leader of Moussavat, stressed that on the contrary "the authorities have failed to find a solution to the problems that Azerbaijan is facing." Finally Eldar Namazov from the New Political Block insisted on pointing out that the high growth rate the country is experiencing owed nothing to the political activities undertaken by the government but was a result of the rise in the price of oil on the world market. The leader of the Liberal Party, Avyaz Termirkan, also suggested that the government should redistribute amongst the population a third of sum generated by the trade in oil.
Azerbaijan is the starting point of a pipeline that extends 1,760 kilometres crossing Georgia and enabling the transport of oil and gas from the Caspian Sea to the port of Ceyhan in Turkey. A million barrels per day are to be sent like this as from the end of this year. Although the Caucasian Republic is due to undergo 14% growth this year Azerbaijan is still poor. 40% of its inhabitants live below the poverty line, i.e. with less than 34 euro monthly. The inflation rate is high (13.6%) and the unemployment rate is constantly rising.
According to the latest poll undertaken by Rey, 50.8% of the electorate was about to vote for the New Azerbaijan Party, 7.3% for the Azadlig Block, 1.8% for the New Political Block and 12.1% for an independent candidate. To date no surprise is expected and the party that is in power at present (YAP) will win during the election on 6th November next according to all political analysts.
Reminder of the general election results – 5th November 2000 and 7th January 2001
Participation rate: 68%
Source Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe