Opposition Stages Protest for Election Corrections
By Mina Muradova and Rufat Abbasov: 11/09/05

With cries of “Freedom!” and “Free elections!,” hundreds of opposition protesters in orange headbands and scarves held a protest November 9 in Baku to demand the rejection of the November 6 parliamentary election results. Meanwhile, steps are apparently being taken by the government to address election irregularities. President Ilham Aliyev dismissed the governors of two regions today for their alleged role in fabricating election results.

"Are you ready to fight for democracy?" Democratic Party of Azerbaijan First Deputy Chairman Sardar Jalaloglu cried through a megaphone to participants. "Yes!" protesters responded. Jalaloglu described the rally, held in Baku’s Galaba Square, outside the city center, as “the beginning of a long and difficult battle against the government” to overturn the election results.

On Wednesday, the first punishments were handed out for interference in the vote process. On November 9, President Ilham Aliyev dismissed the governors of Surakhani and Sabirabad regions, Natiq Mehdiyev and Ashtraf Mammadov, for allegedly interfering in the vote count. Investigations into the actions of several election commissions have also begun. The results in Baku’s #9 and #31 constituencies have already been discarded, while a recount in Surakhani has resulted in Azadlig leader Ali Kerimli, chairman of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, being named the winner. [For background see the EurasiaNet Insight archive.]

To date, Kerimli is the only one of Azadlig’s leaders to have won a seat in parliament. New elections have been scheduled in #9 Second Binagadi, where the Democratic Party’s Jalaloglu is a candidate. Liberal Party of Azerbaijan leader Lala Shovket has also secured a seat, defeating exiled ex-President Ayaz Mutallibov.

The Azadlig (Freedom) bloc, made up of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan and the Musavat Party, has announced plans to hold another demonstration on Saturday, November 12. A request to hold another protest in Baku on November 10 has been rejected by city authorities. Instead, a rally and concert by the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party (YAP-New Azerbaijan Party) will be held in Galaba Square to celebrate its victory at the polls, according to party officials.

Turnout, while higher than that for unsanctioned opposition protests held before the parliamentary vote, was far from the tens of thousands predicted by bloc leaders. One Azadlig supporter, an unemployed accountant, pointed to the scores of riot police present in the square to explain the moderate, overwhelmingly male showing. “People are tired, “ he said. “And they know what the police can do. Families should stay at home.”

Police, however, took no action against protestors. Standing above the crowd on an orange podium, an echo of protestors’ trademark color in Ukraine’s December 2004 revolution, leaders of Azerbaijan's main opposition parties held hands and waved red carnations. Along with supporters of Azadlig, representatives of the Liberal Party of Azerbaijan, Yeni Siyaset (YeS – New Policy ) bloc, Milli Birlik (National Unity) movement, and the youth groups Yeni Fikir (New Idea) and Megam (Movement) also made a showing, with flags in hand.

In an interview with ATV, YAP Executive Secretary Ali Ahmedov called the opposition rally a “celebration of the opposition’s defeat.”

“Each party got its mandate thanks to the trust of the people. [The candidates] who justify people’s hopes are the ones entering the Milli Majlis [parliament],” Ahmedov said. “But the opposition is looking for the reason of its defeat in others.”

Sunday's election -- criticized by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe -- handed a huge parliamentary majority to Aliyev's supporters, while the Azadlyg opposition block gained a mere handful of seats.

Sensitive to that criticism, rally speakers called on the United States, among other members of the international community, to defend voters’ right to a free and fair election. "Mr. Bush, you have assured people that you support national democratic movements and we hope that you will do the same in our country, too,” said Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar in apparent reference to a May 10 speech by the American president in Tbilisi.

In a November 7 statement, US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Adam Ereli warned that a failure to correct election irregularities would “harm the improvements” made in terms of diversity of candidates and access to media. Washington has urged protestors to address their complaints “through legal and peaceful channels and to refrain from
violence.”

At the Wednesday rally, Kerimli reaffirmed that the opposition will use “our constitutional rights to change the results of the parliamentary elections and have new elections held” if complaints about election violations are not addressed.

The interior ministry, however, has already defined the limits of any future protests. Protestors must have the agreement of the Baku city government for any demonstration, Deputy Interior Minister Asker Alekperov told the Russian news agency Interfax. Sit-down actions and pitched tents – as were used in Ukraine during protests at that country’s December 2004 presidential vote – will not be allowed, he said.

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

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A group of protestors are on their way to the opposition rally in Baku. (Yigal Schleifer for Eurasianet)