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Azerbaijan Report: May 30, 2003

30 May 2003
Election Code Ratified, But Opposition Vows to Continue Protests
On 27 May the Milli Majlis (parliament) finally adopted the Election Code, which had been a chief matter of dispute for some months.The law will come into force after it is signed by the president and published in the official press. But the opposition's behavior since it was passed testifies that discord surrounding the code is continuing.

Lawyer Fuad Agaev, who represented the opposition in meeting with governmental representative during discussions of the draft law, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that the adopted code does not reflect the interests of all interested parties. Agaev noted that the ruling authorities have ensured its superiority in the composition of the election commissions. "Decisions in commissions will be made with a 2/3 majority," Agaev said. "In the final version of the code, the government has guaranteed this majority in commissions."

Although the final version of the law incorporated the Council of Europe's suggestions, opposition parties claim that these suggestions had been amended by the time the draft was voted on. Alimemmed Nuriev, a deputy from the People�s Front Party (AXCP) "reformist faction," pointed out that under a suggestion introduced by the Venice Commission, the Central Election Commission is to be composed of 16 members. However, the parliament reduced this number to 15. Six of them will be from the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP), three from other parties represented in the parliament, three from among independent deputies and three from the four opposition parties that overcame the 1 percent barrier at the last parliamentary elections. In electoral district commissions, consisting of nine members, three people are to represent the YAP, four members are to be chosen by neutral and opposition deputies, and two will represent opposition parties not represented in parliament. Polling station commissions are to be composed of six members. Three of them will be representatives of YAP, one neutral and two from opposition parties.

Nuriev noted that by forming the commissions in such a way, the ruling party ensures the 2/3 majority in its favor needed for decision-making. What is more, he said, if the opposition representatives refuse to vote on any matter, a decision can then be made with a simple majority vote.

But deputy Fezail Agamali, chairman of the pro-governmental Ana Vatan (Motherland) Party, said that the government has made concessions on all possible matters, and none remain. In general, the logical and philosophical aspects of the opposition's demands are unclear. "The government's limit for concessions has expired. I think, the opposition's demands have neither logical nor philosophical bases," Agamali said.

Meanwhile, opposition parties promise to continue their struggle for some kind of consideration of their suggestions to the code.Nuriev said that if the opposition succeeds in organizing public protests, amendments to the law are possible even after the president signs it into law.

The nine opposition parties united under the Opposition Coordination Center are going to hold a protest in front of the parliament on 3 June, protesting against the adoption of what they term an antidemocratic election code and against the slander of AXCP "reformist faction" leader Ali Kerimli.

(Natig Zeinalov)

Opposition Picketers Beaten for Unsanctioned Protest
On 27 May the activists of the People's Front Party (AXCP) "reformist faction" led by Ali Kerimli tried to hold a picked in front of Milli Majlis (parliament), protesting against the slandering of Kerimli by New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) deputy Ehed Abiev at a 23 May parliament session. The picket was accompanied by clashes between participants and police.Police began to beat the protesters, including AXCP deputies, on the grounds that the Baku authorities had not sanctioned the picket. Opposition deputies appealed to their supporters to stop the protest, but emotions were already too high. During the picket the police arrested and loaded people into buses as they beat them.A statement issued after the picket by the AXCP "reformist faction,� reads that 40 people were arrested and 18 were injured during the action.

Until then Kerimli's supporters had staged pickets in front of Abiev's house and the pro-government "Lider" television station, which repeatedly broadcast his insulting comments about Kerimli. Two of the party's activists, Rafig Dashdemirov and Etibar Guliev, were detained there and sentenced to two months imprisonment on a charge of hooliganism.

But in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service parliament deputy Rizvan Jabiev, a member of the parliamentary commission on order, characterized the protests following the scandal in the parliament as means of political propaganda. Although Jabiev does not welcome the confrontation between deputies, he said that such incidents happen throughout the world. But there is no need for protest actions.

"MPs clash with each with other in all parts of the world. We have considered this issue at the commission," he said. "Although Kerimli did not participate in this meeting, I think, the commission made an objective decision and it will be revealed in the near future. I think Ali Kerimli is using the recent incident to score political points."

(Natig Zeinalov)

Journalists Meet Over Violence by Police
On 24 May the Sabail police department of Baku used physical force against some journalists in front of the office of the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," according to Azer Hasret, chairman of Azerbaijani Journalists Confederation. Hasret told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that journalists were exposed to physical force as well during a 25 May unsanctioned protest held by the Democratic Party (ADP). He noted that only one of them was identified to date. He is from the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet."

Hasret noted that the issue of journalists being beaten was discussed at a 27 May meeting of the Editors Union. "First of all, we will appeal to the country's leadership and law-enforcement bodies. At the same time we agreed to resume the meeting committee of journalists and to finish current pickets with a mass meeting."

Ehsan Geribov of the Internal Ministry's press service told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that the ministry was unaware of the recent incident with journalists, adding that it could investigate the matter after an official appeal.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

An author writing only as Rashidoglu in the article "The president will sign a pardon decree" in the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" cites Ramiz Mehdiev, head of the Presidential Administration as saying that a pardon decree is expected to be signed in the near future. Mehdiev noted that the presidential pardon commission is going to hold a meeting on the matter. But it is still unclear how many people will be pardoned. Many people are asking: "Will political prisoners fall under this pardon?" Former Interior Minister Iskander Hamidov and his brother Serdar Hamidov are expected to be released this time. According to observers, the government is forced to make concessions, recalling that the issue will be discussed at the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe's summer session. Rashidoglu points out that the political prisoner issue has created a dispute between the government and the Council of Europe. The council is asking that the Hamidovs, former defense minister Rahim Gaziev, Alikram Humbatov--who in 1993 declared an independent Talysh Mughan Republic-- and others be set free, but the government is refusing this. The author predicts that the Council of Europe's patience in this matter will not be endless, and Baku will have to answer for the political prisoner issue.

Abbas Ali in the article "Azerbaijan violates obligations" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" writes that Azerbaijan is an equitable member of the Council of Europe. Azerbaijan's membership in this authoritative institution was possible at the expense of some commitments. But the government has ignored such obligations as the struggle against corruption and the holding of free and fair elections. It is more interested in preserving its power than pursuing national interests. All this could lead to certain international sanctions against Azerbaijan. Moreover, the election code, which is in the world's limelight and introduces the legislative basis for the next presidential elections, has been adopted on the principle of ensuring the ruling party's (YAP) interests and without the participation of opposition deputies. This will costs Azerbaijan dearly at the level of international organizations.

Elkhan Shahinoglu in the article "The settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem has been left after the elections" in the independent newspaper "Ayna" writes that all attention in Azerbaijan is now focused on the presidential ballot. The head of state gives instructions to officials at meetings, the opposition discusses its next moves, and the parliament is embroiled in insults, not legislation. At a time when polarization is deepening, the solution to the Karabakh problem has receded into the background. Some months ago, however, Washington sent a message to the Azerbaijani government noting that it would increase its attention on the problem. Some days before the military campaign against Iraq, U.S. President George Bush received his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heydar Aliev, and Bush said that he had ordered Secretary of State Colin Powell to undertake a serious effort to find a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. After Iraq, Washington has set about the settlement of the Middle East conflict. But there is no guarantee that after the United States reconciles the Israelis and Palestinians, it will focus greater attention on a fair solution to the Karabakh conflict. Shahinoglu writes that at present, when some months remain until the presidential elections, the government does want to rack its brains over the Karabakh issue.

Sekhavet Aliyev in an article entitled "Civic confrontation" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" writes that "one of the power wings�the Milli Majlis [the parliament] plays an exclusive role in creating a civil confrontation in the country. Those who prefer to insult each other with street affronts instead of discussing laws have no moral right to bear the name of MP." Aliyev notes that the Milli Majlis has turned into Heydar Aliev's personal possession. Speaker Murtuz Alesgerov does not rule this institution. Everybody knows that Alesgerov often loses his head in tragicomic situations and cannot control his words. It is shameful to see the expression on his face when confronted with lucid academician Jalal Aliyev [the president's brother]. An unprecedented impudence in the parliament has demonstrated once again that the government would use all means it considers suitable to save its crumbling power. Since Aliyev intends to prolong his 34-year lease on Azerbaijan, he is heading for a confrontation.

Mirzebeyli in the article "Wholesale and retail selling of posts in the Our Azerbaijan election block continues" in the governmental newspaper "Khalg" points out that the Azerbaijani opposition is approaching the climax of despair and hopelessness. Now it is possible to predict the exact number of this camp's electorate. The social basis of opposition "leaders" who want to come to power exactly equals the number of people they bring out into the streets during protest actions. Moreover, the camp today is unbearably fragmented. The idea of a "common candidate" idea introduced by Musavat chairman Isa Gambar has turned the camp's members into mutual enemies. Today's Azerbaijani opposition acts under slogans like "Rasul Guliev will come to power alone," "Etibar Memmedov will be a common opposition candidate," "the strongest party is the AXCP, the most advantageous candidate is Ali Kerimli" and "the opposition must come to power by not old leaders but new faces."

An author writing only as Rafig in the article "Can the Azerbaijani Forces Union (AQB) stop its activities?" in the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" notes that "although the union has gone on the prowl for a common candidate, it has not made concrete progress in the issue� Party leaders, united under the union, demonstrate different stances, jeopardizing its future activities." The union has begun to hesitate in search of a leader. But the reason for the establishment of the organization is clear�the creation of a coalition government under the leadership of ex-president Ayaz Mutallibov.

The independent newspaper "525" writes that the United States has delayed sending Azerbaijani peacekeepers to Iraq. According to the Defense Ministry's statement, the reason for the delay is the unreadiness of some documents on the part of the United States and uncertainty hangs over their departure date.

Mahir Hemzeoglu in the article "The government opens its doors to the face of foreign banks" in the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" points out that as of the next year, the government will completely open the country's doors to foreign banks. At present there are 46 banks in Azerbaijan: two of them are state-owned, 44 are private and 16 are foreign. While the number of foreign banks is increasing, local banks are closing, one after another, and state-owned ones are expected to be privatized in the near future. And all this is realized on the order of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Likely, there are certain domestic forces that are interested in pursuing such a policy. At present the demand for registered capital in lending banks is $2.5 million; however, in some countries this figure is $5 million. The National Bank has chosen the same strategy in Azerbaijan, which will be implemented in 2005-06. Now banks which are unable to raise their capital will be closed in the future. On the one hand, local private banks are closed, state-owned banks are privatized with participation of foreign ones, on the other hand limitations imposed on foreign banks are being lifted. If the National Bank continues such a "successful policy," in the near future, local banks in Azerbaijan will complain.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)