Governor Sacked for Vote Tampering, but Protests Carry On
By Mina Muradov and Rufat Abbasov: 11/14/05

President Ilham Aliyev has dismissed another regional government head over links to election fraud in the November 6 parliamentary vote. The dismissal occurred as opposition protesters continued to demand new elections.

On November 14, Vagif Ragimov, the governor of Zagatala, a region in western Azerbaijan near the border with Georgia, was sacked for alleged interference in ballot counting. Two days earlier, after a three-hour discussion, the Central Election Commission (CEC) canceled results in the #110 Zagatala constituency in response to reported violations in a majority of the constituency’s polling stations.

Ragimov was the third governor to be dismissed by President Aliyev for attempted vote tampering. On November 9, Aliyev also fired the governors of the Sabirabad and Surahani regions.

To date, the recount of ballots in eight constituencies has mostly favored opposition candidates. Despite these apparent wins, Azadlig, Azerbaijan’s largest opposition bloc, is still considering boycotting parliament. Azadlig leader Ali Kerimli, chairman of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, argues that results for at least 100 of the 125 constituencies should be cancelled.

Final tallies are slotted to be presented to the Constitutional Court for ratification on November 26. The opposition appears set to hold rallies right up to that date, if not beyond. Sardar Jalaloglu, deputy chairman of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, one of the members of the Azadlig bloc, told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti on November 13 that the opposition Democratic Front, uniting Azadlig, YeS (Yeni Sisayet – New Policy) and the Liberal Party of Azerbaijan, would begin to hold “indefinite” rallies in the Azerbaijani capital as of November 18.

On November 12, presidential aide Fuad Akhundov characterized the opposition’s refusal to recognize the election results as “attempts to pressure public opinion by distortion of the facts,” the Russian news agency Interfax reported. The authorities insist that election law violations were observed in only 20 percent of all constituencies.

Nonetheless, the protests carry on. On November 13, the opposition Democratic Front held its second protest rally since the parliamentary vote, just over a week ago. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Thousands of protesters with orange flags, some women and children carrying red carnations, repeated earlier calls for fresh elections and the government’s resignation. Police estimated turnout at 4,500 protestors, but Azadlig spokesperson Isaak Avazoglu claimed that more than 60,000 individuals had taken part.

Contrary to earlier speculation, protestors decided against staging a sit-in demonstration with pitched tents – a scenario that characterized Ukraine’s 2004 presidential elections. Police had warned that such a sit-in “is absolutely illegal” and would not be tolerated. Recent unauthorized opposition rallies in the districts of Bilesuvar and Zagatala had been dispersed by police.

Security was tight during the Baku rally, with several hundred policemen equipped with shields and truncheons standing guard around the protest site at Galaba Square. “The police are with the people!” was a recurring slogan for student activists. The pro-opposition youth movement Magam (It’s Time) has called on university students and teachers to take part in a civil disobedience campaign until election results deemed falsified by the movement are thrown out.

The movement claims that taking part in opposition rallies has already left some students in danger of expulsion from universities. For example, Elturan Mursalzada, a history student at Baku State University (BSU), claimed that his expulsion was authorized after he held a press conference on November 11 to announce that university students who attended the opposition rallies were being harassed. BSU representatives could not be reached for comment.

Authorities, meanwhile, continue to downplay the possibility of a so-called color revolution occurring in Azerbaijan, like those that toppled governments in Georgia and Ukraine in recent years. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. "The chances of this [a color revolution] happening in Azerbaijan are zero," President Aliyev said in a November 12 interview with the state-run AzTV.

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

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Government opposition supporters attend a second post-election rally in Baku on Nov. 13. About 20,000 demonstrators gathered at Galaba Square outside the city center. (Sophia Mizante for EurasiaNet)