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Azerbaijan: Opposition Struggles To Maintain Momentum

  • Robert Parsons --> The opposition is still overshadowed by the state (AFP) Several hundred parliamentary candidates who were defeated in Azerbaijan's parliamentary elections on 6 November held a forum in Baku today at which they issued a statement protesting against falsification of the vote and called for fresh elections. It's part of an attempt by the opposition and independents to challenge the government's claim that the elections were fair and democratic. But the opposition has been struggling since the election to generate popular support. Its rallies in Baku and elsewhere in Azerbaijan have not been well attended.

Prague, 16 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- As far as expressions of Azerbaijani opposition solidarity go, today's forum at a hall in central Baku was as good as it gets.

All the main leaders were there and a host of defeated candidates, many of them independents, like Razi Nurullayev.

"This forum can somehow bring up political activism and also give hope to candidates whose rights have been violated that in future, if the results are cancelled, they can run again in the [repeat] elections and maybe they can get their seats in the parliament."

Despite the indignation and calls for resolute action, the opposition is struggling to recover from yet another loss, after election defeats in 2000 and 2003.

It makes no difference that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, among others, have condemned the 6 November elections as seriously flawed, marred by falsification, and not up to international standards.

The opposition, it seems, is encountering difficulty in channeling popular frustration into meaningful political action.

Its leaders' conviction that Azerbaijan will adopt the template for popular revolution established by Georgia and Ukraine is beginning to look like wishful thinking. At a 8 November rally called to protest the election results, 15,000 turned up. Another 20,000 came out to protest last weekend.

Shain Abbasov is a young, freelance journalist who says the opposition's tactic for the moment is to avoid giving the government an excuse to crack down.

"The opposition leadership are trying to operate at least until 26 November, when the CEC [Central Election Commission] should announce the official results of the elections, they are going to operate exactly within the law," Abbasov said. "So, no unsanctioned rallies, no cla
The opposition leaders' conviction that Azerbaijan will adopt the template for popular revolution established by Georgia and Ukraine is beginning to look like wishful thinking.
shes with the police, etc. They remember their experience in 2003 elections, when Isa Gambar [Ed. an opposition leader who lost against Ilham Aliyev in the presidential election] moved his supporters to the streets and then they were cracked down."

However, operating within the law is increasingly unpopular with a new generation of radical, young opposition activists, Many of them are not afraid to confront the government:

"Young people want to stay at the square [in central Baku] after the next rally, to put up tents, to put [up] orange tents, to repeat the Ukrainian events, as they call them," Abbasov said. "So, stay and attract more attention of the Western international community to falsification and maybe provoke police violence. They want [a] more radical struggle. They think the carefulness of the leadership will help the government confirm the falsified results."

At the most recent opposition rally, on 13 November, youth-movement activists shouted slogans as opposition leaders were speaking. Some think that could be a sign of growing disenchantment with the old guard. Among the disenchanted is Nurullayev, who though barely 30 years old, sees himself as a future opposition leader.

"They have to prove that they can get people out on to the streets to make a democratic revolution, otherwise they [the opposition] will lose all their authority and the people around them will be leaving them and they will have to leave the political arena," Nurullayev said. "They have been losing for decades, so I think I don't have a right to believe in them any more."

The opposition has a hard task ahead of it. Under existing conditions it seems unlikely to defeat the government in elections and it fears violent confrontation will give the authorities an excuse to crack down. And yet many observers believe that inaction can only destroy the opposition's credibility.