New Azerbaijani Parliament Convenes, But Opposition Stays Away
By Rufat Abbasov and Mina Muradova: 10/31/05

Urged by President Ilham Aliyev to continue “forming democratic traditions,” Azerbaijan’s newly elected parliament held its first session on Friday, As promised, however, seven of the body’s 11 opposition deputies refused to take their seats in protest at the outcome of the November 6 parliamentary elections.

Newly elected parliamentary speaker Oktai Asadov, the Armenia-born former president of the Absheron Water Company, announced that parliament’s main goal "will be to support the course of the president." The legislature’s work would also be directed at forming a "democratic, secular state that follows the path of market economies,” he added.

Azerbaijan’s largest opposition parties, however, will not be part of that process, "Representatives of Azadliq who obtained MP mandates are not going to attend the sittings of the new parliament," said Sardar Jalaloglu, first deputy chairman of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, one of the three member-parties of the opposition bloc Azadlig (Freedom), the country’s largest election alliance. Altogether, the bloc held six seats in parliament.

Another opposition leader, Lala Shovket, chairperson of the Liberal Party, a member of the National Unity Movement, also declined to take her elected seat in parliament.

Four opposition candidates – two from the centrist Yeni Sisayet (YeS – New Policy) bloc, an Azadlig ally -- opted to take their seats in the legislature, however.

No date has yet been set for repeat elections in the 10 constituencies where election results were cancelled. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The elections must be held within 120 days of the president signing a decree on the vote. Under the law, President Aliyev must issue this decree within 60 days of the December 1 validation of the election results.

Neither Azadlig nor the National Unity Movement will run candidates in repeat elections for the constituencies, expected in January 2006, Jalaloglu and Shovket said.

Acting as parliament’s opening day chairman, President Ilham Aliyev said that "there is no place in politics for those who led the country to poverty and civil war" and argued that existing opposition forces are "weak for revolution."

The Azerbaijani leader described the recent parliamentary elections as transparent and fair. "We did everything for carrying out transparent and fair elections and they took place in just such an environment," Aliyev stated, expressing hope that the new parliament will continue to "form ... democratic traditions in Azerbaijan".

MPs from the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party (YAP - New Azerbaijan) make up the majority of the Milli Mejlis, or parliament. YAP candidates won 56 seats, compared with six won by the Azadlig bloc (Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, Musavat Party, Democratic Party of Azerbaijan) and five won by smaller opposition parties. Independent candidates hold 40 seats.

Only 115 of the parliament’s 125 seats have elected deputies. Results in six constituencies, including that in which Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan Chairman Ali Kerimli was the assumed winner, were cancelled by the Constitutional Court, which validated the election results on December 1. The Central Election Commission (CEC) annulled the outcome of the vote in four other districts before.

A statement released by the US embassy in Baku on December 2 hailed the Constitutional Court’s decision to cancel results in the ten constituencies for election violations as an “important” step in providing for the integrity of Azerbaijan’s election process.” The US intends to work with the government with the aim of strengthening democratic institutions, including parliament, in which all voices are heard – independent, opposition and the ruling party.”

Speaking to parliament, Alilyev stated that the “results of the elections are an indicator of the public and political atmosphere in the country and . . . showed that Azerbaijan is developing in the right direction."

The country’s political and economic development should run “in parallel,” he said. “If democracy and civil society do not develop in the country, real public control will not be established and economic processes will not be successful despite everything [else]."

One independent political analyst, Rasim Musabekov, commented that with YAP in firm control of parliament, chances are slim that the legislature will be able to work independently of presidential administration, however. "Azerbaijan is a country with hypertrophied presidential power, and after the parliamentary elections, the situation in the country will, as before, depend on the president," Musabekov said.

Editor’s Note: Rufat Abbasov and Mina Muradova are freelance journalists based in Baku.

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