Azerbaijan’s Largest Opposition Blocs Agree to Disagree
By Rovshan Ismayilov: 11/03/05

Despite heated and protracted talks, Azerbaijan’s two largest opposition electoral blocs have failed to agree on forming an electoral alliance for the November 6 parliamentary election. Though the two blocs, Yeni Siyaset (YeS) and Azadlig, have pledged to cooperate informally, observers have cast the news as a setback for the opposition’s chances at the polls.

An alliance would have paved the way for the naming of single opposition candidates in some election districts – a move that would in theory bolster the opposition’s ability to secure a larger share of seats the next parliament. Both Azadlig and YeS representatives give differing accounts over what caused the unification discussions to break down. At a November 1 news conference, Sardar Jalaloglu, deputy chairman of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA) and one of the leaders of the Azadlig (Freedom) bloc, claimed that the bloc had been prepared for compromise, but YeS leaders backed out at the last minute. “Finally, they [YeS] refused to sign the draft [agreement] prepared by themselves,” APA news agency reported Jalaloglu as saying.

Ali Aliyev, chairman of the National Independence Party and a member of YeS’s coordination council, admitted that Azadlig had been ready to sign the agreement. He added that YeS had concerns about the short amount of time remaining in the campaign. “Four out of six items in the draft were related to the issue of naming single candidates,” Aliyev said. “However, we took into consideration the shortage of time, that the campaign is almost over and it would be very difficult to withdraw our candidates [in favor of single YeS-Azadlig candidates],” he told APA on November 1.

In a November 2 interview with EurasiaNet, Rashid Hajily, another member of YeS’s coordination council and a candidate for the bloc from Baku’s #23 Nasimi-Sabail constituency, went into greater details about the agreement. “The final draft which we sent to Azadlig, they accepted, and then we [YeS] rejected, was mostly about naming single candidates from the two blocs in as many constituencies as possible. However, the Azadlig leadership let us know that they were ready to withdraw only two candidates [in favor of single candidates]. Such a position did not satisfy us and we rejected the proposal,” Hajily said.

Fuad Mustafayev, deputy chairman of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, another member of the Azadlig bloc, termed the YeS insistence on single candidates in all constituencies “impossible.”

“How can we [Azadlig] make our candidates withdraw at the end of the campaign, when they have used so many resources and taken so much effort?” asked Mustafayev.

The issue of single candidates, however, was not the only question dividing the two blocs. Mustafayev told EurasiaNet that organizing joint vote monitoring on election day, a joint assessment of the election results, and the question of taking joint actions after the elections also proved to be deal-breakers. According to Mustafayev, YeS rejected cooperation on these issues.

Talks about a formal pact between YeS and Azadlig began immediately after the two blocs were established. The Azadlig bloc was created in the summer of 2005 by Azerbaijan's three main opposition parties: the Popular Front Party (PFPA), Musavat Party and Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA). It has generally been more outspoken in its criticism of President Ilham Aliyev and draws inspiration from the so-called “color” revolutions that have occurred elsewhere in the Commonwealth of Independent States over the past two years. The bloc is supporting 114 candidates, including some candidates who are not members of Azadlig parties and some independents.

The YeS, or New Policy, alliance was created in April 2005 by Eldar Namazov, president of the public forum For Azerbaijan and a former aide to President Heidar Aliyev. Other founders of the bloc included: Etibar Mammadov, leader and former chairman of the National Independence Party; Lala Shovket, leader of the Liberal Party; Ali Masimov, prime minister under the late President Abulfaz Elchibey; and Eldaniz Guliyev, chairman of the Intelligentsia Movement. Shovket later left the bloc, and the National Independence Party and Social Democratic Party signed on. YeS initially tried to style itself as a “third force” that would appeal to voters who had lost faith in both the government and the more established opposition parties in the Azadlig bloc. Among YeS members, the National Independence Party is running the greatest number of candidates, 45.

As early as August, leaders of both blocs told reporters that they were ready to explore possible cooperation during the elections and willing to start the necessary negotiations. But substantive talks on unification didn’t immediately happen.

From the start, large differences in ideology and election strategies have separated Azadlig and YeS. Azadlig leaders seemed to pursue more confrontational tactics, engaging in street clashes with police and unsanctioned rallies. Azadlig representatives were also more outspoken in their criticism of the Aliyev administration. Meanwhile, YeS staked out a more moderate position. YeS candidates have stated that they do not endorse revolutionary tactics, and in televised campaign speeches, some YeS candidates have expressed support for the current government; Hajiami Atakishiyev, a YeS candidate in Baku’s #14 Azizbeyov constituency, even withdrew his candidacy in favor of First Lady Mehriban Aliyev.

In a September 27 interview with Day.az, Panah Huseyn, head of the Azadlig election headquarters stated that cooperation with YeS in “fighting [vote] falsifications would facilitate democratic elections in Azerbaijan.” One of the founders of YeS, Eldar Namazov, also was among supporters of an alliance. “The fact that the opposition has several candidates in each constituency is not a way to the victory. So it would be very positive if we will be able to reach [an agreement on] cooperation with the Azadlig bloc and decide on single candidates,” Namazov said in a September 13 interview with Day.az.

Those opposed to cooperation within the respective groups were much more outspoken, hampering the ability to conduct talks. Soon after YeS sent a first draft agreement to Azadlig for consideration in September, Araz Alizade, co-chairman of the Social Democrat Party and a member of YeS’s coordination council announced that he would oppose any form of cooperation with Azadlig. YeS candidate Rashid Hajily characterized the Social Democrats and National Independence Party leader Etibar Mammadov as the most determined opponent of cooperation with Azadlig. Then, in a September 29 interview with the pro-opposition Azadlig newspaper, Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar said that if YeS did not have a united position on cooperation with Azadlig, then “we have nothing to discuss.”

Even with cooperation talks now off the table, the accusations continue to fly. “I always was against cooperation with Azadlig. There was not even single case during last 16 years when the parties in this bloc would redeem a promise,” the Russian-language daily Echo reported the Social Democrats’ Araz Alizade as saying on November 2.

“We lost nothing, “Popular Front deputy leader Mustafayev commented told EurasiaNet. “YeS did not act as a bloc. They failed to produce either a single political position, or a single strategy against the authorities. They had no rallies, no united meetings with voters. YeS is just a group of single-mandate candidates united under a single label.”

Though there is no signed agreement, there still exists hope for at least some informal cooperation. “If the elections will be totally falsified, I hope that YeS will make a joint protest with Azadlig,” National Independence Party Chairman Ali Aliyev told EurasiaNet on November 2. Responded Mustafayev: “If YeS will be ready to fight for free and fair elections, why not?”

Editor’s Note: Rovshan Ismayilov is a freelance journalist based in Baku.

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Ali Kerimli, head of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan and one of the leaders of the Azadlig bloc, talks to reporters in his Baku office. Despite negotiations, Azadlig, the leading opposition bloc, and YeS, another opposition bloc, failed to come to terms on how to join forces in the upcoming parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan. (Yigal Schleifer for Eurasianet)