With a parliamentary vote just under six weeks away, Azerbaijan’s two largest opposition parties, the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan and the Musavat Party, are exploring the possibility of a merger.
The proposed union would take place after the country’s November 7 elections, apparently with an eye toward the next election cycle. Most political experts in Baku expect the governing Yeni Azerbaijan Party to triumph handily in the upcoming vote.
The Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA), a descendant of the nationalist movement that catalyzed Azerbaijan’s departure from the Soviet Union, initiated the merger attempt with a vote at its September 25 party congress to join forces with Musavat, a leading opposition force since 1993. PFPA Deputy Chairperson Razi Nurullayev told EurasiaNet.org that party members had voted for unification without conditions.
Musavat leaders seemed enthusiastic about the proposed merger, but were reluctant to proclaim it a done deal. Musavat leader Isa Gambar stressed to EurasiaNet.org his support for “building a super-party,” but underlined that "any final decision will have to wait until after the election."
A formal merger would cement an existing tactical political alliance in place. The two parties have decided to field joint candidates for 100 parliamentary races in the November 7 election, according to the APA news agency. Overall, Azerbaijan’s legislature has 125 seats. “The electorate is unhappy with the government and unhappy with us for not uniting,” Nurullayev said. “If we didn’t unite at this moment, I think many of our members would have quit.”
Past efforts to join forces suggest that a lot of work remains to be done to ensure a successful merger. The two parties, after campaigning as part of the same electoral coalition, had drastically different responses to alleged irregularities during the 2005 legislative election. Musavat accepted the four seats it won in parliament; the Popular Front refused to take its seats, and expelled the one party member who did otherwise.
Gambar, in an earlier interview, maintained that more unites the two parties than divides them. “Our parties have a close ideology, similar political goals and the same desire to challenge the ruling regime,” said Gambar, who was formerly a member of the Popular Front.
Unlike in 2005, Popular Front leaders say they will not boycott parliament in the event they gain seats. At the same time, PFPA representatives say they see “no hope for fair elections” on November 7.
A June report on Azerbaijan’s electoral environment produced by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe acknowledged steps taken to prevent vote tampering, but also criticized the length of the 23-day official campaign period. In 2005, the official campaign period lasted 60 days. The report also documented what it described as restricted assembly rights for opposition parties and media freedom for journalists. The composition of election commissions, which favors the Yeni Azerbaijan Party, is an additional cause for concern, the report asserted.
Some political analysts in Baku expressed ambivalence about the potential opposition merger. “A Musavat-APFP alliance does not herald anything new in Azerbaijan’s politics,” Eldar Nazmazov, president of the Baku-based Forum for Azerbaijan and a former aide to the late President Heydar Aliyev, said in an email interview with EurasiaNet.org, “There have been even wider blocs in past elections.”
Yeni Azerbaijan Party representatives did not respond to requests for comment about the Musavat-PFPA election alliance.