Azerbaijanâs Opposition Split Over May Elections
Azerbaijan's opposition appears badly divided over whether or not to take part in elections in ten constituencies where the results of Azerbaijan's November 6 parliamentary elections were annulled. In a move that promises to test the movement still further, leading opposition parties are also refusing to take part in forming the new Central Election Commission that will oversee the vote, arguing that the body is stacked against government critics.
Opposition parties will send their representatives to the central and district electoral commissions only if they are formed on a parity basis, according to Ali Kerimli, leader of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA) and one of the founders of the Azadlig (Freedom) opposition movement. "The opposition parties took a decision to send their representatives to the commission only if the latter is formed on a parity basis as advised by the Council of Europe and the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe]," Kerimli told a January 6 news conference. "I can say that our party will not change its position, regardless of future developments. We will not take part in forming the CEC [Central Election Commission]. But I cannot speak on behalf of other parties."
The decision was taken at a January 6 meeting of the leaders of the Azadlig bloc, the National Unity Movement and the Azarbaycan Milli Istiqlal Party (AMIP). The parties making up Azadlig - PFPA, Musavat Party and Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA) -- and the Liberal Party of Azerbaijan discussed an invitation they had received from the Milli Majlis [parliament] to nominate representatives to the Central Electoral Commission.
A day earlier, on January 5, Musavat sent parliament its own proposal on formation of the CEC. The plan, based on recommendations of the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe's constitutional law advisory group, calls for nine representatives from the "real opposition" be appointed to the CEC instead of six, according to Musavat Party Deputy Chairman Arif Hajily. Currently, six representatives of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party (YAP), six representatives of various opposition parties and six non-partisan parliamentary deputies make up the CEC. The opposition has charged that non-partisan representatives routinely favor YAP positions, thereby guaranteeing that the government position prevails in CEC votes.
The last CEC's term expired on November 13, 2005, one week after the parliamentary elections. The newly formed CEC is made up of 18 members, including three additional representatives of non-partisan parliamentary deputies.
Before last fall's elections, the Venice Commission had urged the government to re-form the election body on the principle of parity between the authorities and opposition. Despite the addition of three non-partisan representatives, the Commission says that its position on parity has not changed.
The new CEC will oversee repeat elections scheduled to take place on May 13, 2006 in 10 constituencies: Binagadi 9, Surakhani 31, Ganja 38, Sumgayit 42, Sumgayit-Absheron 44, Jalilabad-Masalli-Bilasuvar 69, Gadabay 103, Tovuz-Kazakh-Agstafa 106, Zagatala 110, and Agdam 119. Massive fraud and voting violations prompted the CEC and Constitutional Court to cancel the election results in these constituencies.
Seven newly elected deputies from the Azadlig opposition bloc have so far refused to participate in the new parliament, which convened in early December. Their mandates have, as yet, not been annulled.
As of January 10, the nine individuals who have applied to run in the repeat elections are without party membership, according to the CEC's press office. One potential candidate is a former Musavat Party activist, who was expelled by the party before the November parliamentary elections.
Panah Huseyn, chairman of Azadlig's election office and one of the elected opposition deputies boycotting parliament, said that there was a discrepancy between bloc members over participation in the repeat elections.
"There are both opponents and supporters on the matter of participation in the elections," Huseyn said.
Azadlig, the country's largest opposition bloc, has yet to make a final decision on the issue. On January 9, Arif Hadjily, deputy chairman of the Musavat Party, one of Azadlig's three members, told Trend news agency that his party would make a decision about the elections at the end of January. Hadjily admitted that there are some members who are eager to take part in the vote.
But opposition support for a boycott also runs deep. According to Akif Shahbazov, head of the Supreme Council of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, another Azadlig member, the opposition should not participate in the May elections.
"The opposition should not lose its dignity by entering the government's next electoral show. The Azadlig bloc has declared its position on this issue, in as much that we do not intend to participate in any repeat elections," Shahbazov told Caspian Business News recently.
Shahbazov went on to warn any undecided opposition members that whoever would participate in the elections or attend sessions of parliament would have no right to speak on behalf of the Azadlig bloc. In a December statement, Shahbazov threatened to expel from the party any DPA member who elected to take part in the May vote.
The dispute within Azadlig represents a larger debate, over whether or not "evolution" or "revolution" is the best way to protest the government's policies, commented political analyst Zardusht Alizadeh. (Zardusht Alizadeh is on the board of the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation - Azerbaijan. EurasiaNet operates under the auspices of the Open Society Institute in New York.) "Musavat Party has a good chance of getting more places in parliament [through the repeat elections] and wants to continue their fight through evolution. The other two parties [the DPA and PFPA member] prefer to continue their fight the revolutionary way. As a result of this debate, the opposition's unity is disputable."
The debate has already resulted in a split in the opposition National Independence Party (ANIP). On January 8, the ANIP central council, chaired by party leader Etibar Mammadov, unanimously passed a vote of no-confidence in the incumbent chairman, Ali Aliyev. Mammadov accused Aliyev of violating the party's regulations and other opposition parties of attempting to split up ANIP. "I tell everyone that I have not died yet. Neither have ANIP members, so no one can seize our party," Mammadov told journalists following the council's meeting.
According to news portal Day.az, the meeting of a separate central council, led by ANIP Chairman Ali Aliyev, dismissed the vote of no-confidence as illegitimate and accused Etibar Mammadov of provoking a split in the party. "They seek to destroy the unity of the opposition. They want to take part in the re-elections in May and in that way to recognize the legitimacy of the parliament," Aliyev said, adding that Mammadov had long been suspected of "pro-governmental" views.
Meanwhile, Day.az reported DPA First Deputy Chairman Sardar Jalaloglu as saying that the reason for the pressure on Ali Aliyev is his cooperation with the "real opposition," a reference to the Azadlig bloc.
A senior government official has stressed, however, that the authorities will provide all conditions for holding democratic and transparent repeat elections. "The government would create all necessary conditions for the participation of opposition candidates in the elections," Ali Hasanov, head of the presidential administration's Public Political Department, told Caspian Business News on December 19.
Any boycott of the parliament or of the repeat elections would amount to a "violation of voters' rights," he went on to say. "I do not think that all of the newly elected opposition will boycott the parliament. However, if they do, neither parliament nor the people will lose anything. The only losers will be the opposition themselves."
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