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Azerbaijan Report: June 18, 2003

18 June 2003
Opposition Announces Intent to Run with One Presidential Candidate
Four leading opposition parties--the Azerbaijan People�s Front (reformist faction) of Ali Kerimli, Musavat, led by Isa Gambar, the Azerbaijan National Independence of Etibar Memmedov, and the Azerbaijan Democratic Party of Rasul Guliev--have agreed to participate in the fall presidential election with a common candidate.

Kerimli said after the parties' meeting that they intend to nominate a common candidate for the ballot, but he added that the name of this candidate will be announced only when they launched the campaign. "We agreed to participate with a unified candidate. But this candidate will be announced once the registration period for presidential candidates has ended," Kerimli said.

Meanwhile, the Central Election Commission has set 15 October as the date for the election. Thus far, eight opposition candidates�including the four parties who will now combine forces--have officially nominated their party leader as candidate for the ballot.

The ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) has announced it will support the candidacy of incumbent President Heydar Aliev.Nevertheless, pro-governmental parties continue making decisions that are causing public discussions. The Ana Vatan (Motherland) Party at its recent congress has nominated both Heydar Aliyev and his son Ilham for the election, while the Modern Musavat Party has put forth Ilham Aliev's candidacy.

Political observers explain these parties' decisions in terms of the general uncertainty about the president's health. Psychologist Azer Garachenli, a commentator for the "Avropa" newspaper told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that forces within the ruling elite are aware of Heydar Aliev's political course. They know that the president would agree to his son's candidacy only once he is out of the picture. But at the same time they are not sure whether the president himself will participate in the elections. Garachenli attributed Ana Vatan's decision to hesitationscaused by the lack of information about the president's health. Garachenli noted that by supporting the candidacy of Ilham Aliev, along with the president's, Fazail Agamali, the party's chairman, has successfully tried to insure himself against possible mistakes. Agamali knows that the endorsement of Ilham Aliev's candidacy will not upset the ruling circles.

Eldar Ismailov, head of the non-governmental organization For the Sake of Civil Society, pointed out that not only Ana Vatan, but also other political forces close to the government support both candidates. Ismailov said that such contradictory decisions must be in fact considered as the ruling command�s reserve plans.

"I think that the decisions of the Ana Vatan Party and other organizations on backing Heydar Aliyev and his son come from hesitation about the president's health," Ismailov said. "This is a serious plan that the government has devised to ensure its success in the presidential ballot."

According to experts, the pro-governmental parties' decisions, irrespective of how they are explained, give grounds to suppose that even governmental circles are not fully sure that the president's health can withstand the strains of the election campaign.

(Natig Zeinalov)

Nine Opposition Parties Claim New Election Code Violates Constitution
The Opposition Coordination Center, a grouping of nine of the largest opposition parties, has concluded at a 13 June meeting that the newly adopted Unified Election Code contains a number of articles that contradict not only the opposition's interests, but also the country's Constitution, according to Ilias Ismailov, chairman of the Adalat Party. What is causing special concern, Ismailov said, is the recent addendum to the law that states that if the president is unable to fulfill his duties for any reason, he can end the election campaign at any point and call for extraordinary elections. Ismailov noted that this addition contradicts the Constitution serves to and bend whole election process to one person's will. That means that the election scheduled for 15 October can be stopped at any point.

Ismailov said the Opposition Coordination Center has adopted an appeal to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Moreover, considering that there is material evidence in the case, the parties' representatives have decided to make a complaint to Prosecutor-General Zakir Garalov, asking him to immediately open legal proceedings. At the meeting the participants also discussed signing the opposition�s common cooperation agreement.

Ismailov said that center has drafted an agreement on organizing unified monitoring of the October ballot. Moreover, the agreement reflects the issues involved in cooperating to name a common candidate who would win in future elections.

(Babek Bekir)

An author writing only as HajiAliyev in the article "The opposition's election adventure" in the government newspaper "Azerbaycan" writes that activity is observed in the opposition camp on the threshold of the presidential elections. The camp's representatives already well realize that the next presidential elections will solve the existence of the opposition on the political arena once and for all. That is why they seek a way out of a disgraceful defeat by holding separate negotiations. The author writes that party leaders ambitious for power have entered a contest for the most advantageous candidate. Even in the negotiation process, each of the leaders tries to demonstrate that his likely success exceeds those of his rivals and thus escalates the situation. The National Independence (AMIP), People�s Front (AXCP) and Musavat parties, which are interested in ppromoting a common candidate, are now engaged in political maneuvering to that end.

Rahib Kazimli in an article entitled "Activity" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" points out that the question whether the opposition is active or not has always prompted wide discussion. It should be admitted that negative opinions have prevailed on this during Heydar Aliev's government. As a rule, persons who consider themselves neutral have not denounced the opposition's struggle. According to them, those who stand up against the government have not demonstrated enough rigidity and bellicosity. Naturally the battle seems easy for those who observe it from the outside. Kazimli in particular considers the current moment and writes that if President Aliyev had not collapsed at the Republican Palace on 21 April, the integration and activity within the opposition would have not been at today's level. In other words, the increase in political activity in the country is the result of the worsening of the president�s health. These persons claim that bringing together opposition leaders is directly concerned with problems the government faces. The author notes that the country's opposition must now successfully implement the work needed in the run up to the elections. The opposition's positive stance toward the determination of its candidates to the Central Election Commission, as well as the common candidate issue has drastically increased hopes regarding the upcoming presidential ballot. Citizens are satisfied with observing cooperation between opposition forces, which they have long dreamed about, and naturally while thinking about its reasons they again recall the president's health. But it is possible to say, referring to the essence and practice, that the worsening of the president's health has only damaged the integration process within the opposition.

An author identified only as Narmin in the article "Three republics far from democracy" in the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" writes that similarities in the systems of government in all the three South Caucasus states--Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia--originates from the existence of the same kinds of shortcomings. These deficiencies sometimes reveal themselves in the activities of these countries' state structures. Therefore, it must be considered accidental that certain problems are experienced at the same time in these three countries. Narmin points out that the government systems of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia--former Soviet republics that have entered the path of independence and democracy--generally do not differ from their communist days, it is a question of degree. For example, one difference could be regarded as the level of the autocratic regimes in each country. President Aliev, who is considered a "political grand master," leaves Georgia's Eduard Shevarnadze and Armenia's Robert Kocharian far behind in this respect. Kocharian's method of government takes second place, Shevarnadze's third. But Shevarnadze's form of government is experiencing changes, which is mainly explained with the Georgian president's statement that he would not run for a third term. Nevertheless, this could be considered as a very slight democratization of Georgian society. The author concludes that the only factor that could change the situation in the South Caucasus region, which plays a role of the bridge between the West and East, would be new forces coming to power all the three countries.

Doctor of historical sciences Meherrem Zulfugarli in the article "The attitude toward a state begins with the attitude toward language" in the pro-government newspaper "525" writes that one serious problem that the country was due to resolve after restoration of its independence was the development of Azeri as the state language. Although unlike other regimes, the former Soviet communist regime allowed--in a certain sense-- development of Azeri, there were plenty of problems as well. Zulfugarli analyzes the processes that have taken place since 1993 and notes that since then, not only is the ethnic Russian population not inclined to learn Azeri, but even most ethnic Azeris who have studied in Russian schools continue to consider the state language as a foreign tongue. Unfortunately, this situation continues. It is not just ordinary citizens, but even some high-ranking officials, representatives of diplomatic bodies, who cannot speak the official language and make no efforts to learn it. According to the author, both the government and the opposition are equally guilty in this respect. While it is usually government representatives who are accused of this failing, the situation within the opposition is not favorable either. Zulfugarli points to the need to take certain factors into account and make more decisive steps in implementing the Law on Language.

Several Azerbaijani dailies discuss the demonstrations taking place in Iran. Zafar Nejefli in the article "The U.S. anti-terror strategy and Iran" in the pro-government newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" writes that Iran is already experiencing instability. Most of the Azerbaijani population sides with the widescale student demonstrations throughout the capital, Tehran, demanding the resignation of the country's clerical regime. The Iranian regime is wary of demonstrations spreading to the country's northern province of South Azerbaijan. What is causing special concern in Tehran is the possibility of governing current protests from abroad. The White House's recent statement that "the United States support the Iranians' wish to live in a democratic state" gives ground for Tehran's concern. Therefore, Tehran tries to ensure its security against possible U.S. military actions from the north by upgrading its partnership with Baku to a strategic level. Iran's diplomats may even sacrifice Tehran's rigid stance on the Caspian status issue for military cooperation with Baku.

Rovshen Murfetoglu writing in the article "The adoption of the Law on Oil and Gas is delayed" published in the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" notes that nine years have passed since the signing of the "Contract of Century." Nevertheless, the legal framework in this sphere has yet to be completely improved. The matter, first of all, concerns the Law on Oil and Gas. Murfetoglu writes that the law has been discussed in parliamentary standing committees on energy, ecology and natural resources. It was even planned to be submitted for the parliament's consideration in May. But apparently it will be impossible to adopt the law this year. The author recalls that the country has so far signed 22 oil contracts with about 30 oil companies from more than 15 countries. As a result, the country's oil and gas industry is expected to receive more than $60 billion in investment. This is huge figure for a country that has recently started on the road to a free-market economy. Nevertheless, the companies that have signed oil contracts also point to the necessity of adopting of a separate law "On oil and gas" that would regulate relations in this sphere.

Mahir Hamzeoglu in the article "Risky policy" in the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" writes that the government is now engaged in increasing the wages of budget institutions' employees by benefiting from the high oil prices in the world market. Should world oil prices drop to the 1998 level of $12-15, this could lead to at least a 30 percent deficit in the state budget. The author points out that the government is counting on the assets of the Oil Fund should the price of oil drop drastically.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)