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Azerbaijan Report: October 7, 2003

7 October 2003
Experts Expect Acceleration Of Election Campaign
President Heidar Aliev's withdrawal of his candidacy in the 15 October presidential elections in favor of his son Ilham Aliyev has somewhat clarified the political situation in the country, according to independent observers in Baku. Togrul Juvarli, a political expert from the Turan news agency, noted that even the government-sponsored candidate Ilham Aliyev will no longer be able to benefit from his father's influence over the ruling team's supporters, as he had before in the course of the election campaign. Juvarli suggested that the president's withdrawal could weaken Ilham Aliev's position, as well as strengthen the opposition's opportunities.

"Until now, there has been a shadow," he said. "But the president's long-awaited step could weaken Ilham Aliev's position. The political situation has cleared up a little, and in a certain sense, the opposition will be able to breathe easier."

Eldar Ismailov, the head of the nongovernmental organization For the Sake of Civil Society, agreed that the removal of such a charismatic personality as Heidar Aliyev from the election marathon would greatly change the balance of forces. The future course of events will mainly depend on the behavior of the opposition and government, as well as the groups within the government.

(Natig Zeinalov)

Prosecutor General Warns Presidential Candidates
Prosecutor General Zakir Garalov has charged a number of presidential candidates with violating internal stability and inciting people to rebellion. In an interview with the private television channel ANS, Garalov pointed out that the Prosecutor-General's Office is closely watching and monitoring the candidates' speeches. He added that if such speeches were not stopped, his office would take severe measures within the framework of the law.

Opposition presidential candidate Etibar Mamedov welcomed the prosecutor-general's statement in an interview with RFE/RL, but said that it would be better for Garalov to provide the names of those who have made these illegal appeals. In fact, it is the government and the ruling party's representatives who are violating stability and calling for civil confrontation, Mamedov concluded.

Vurgun Eyyub, the first deputy of presidential candidate Isa Gambar, suggested that the prosecutor-general's statement is merely propaganda and has no legal basis. According to him, the government simply wants to intimidate the population with such remarks. The goal here is to decrease the possible turnout of voters on election day and thus have more of an opportunity to falsify the election results.

Mubariz Ahmedoglu, head of the Institute for Political Innovations and Technologies, agreed that Garalov's statement is based on theoretical suppositions.

(Shahnaz Beilergizi)

OSCE Warns About Possible Disorder
The possible falsification of the 15 October presidential elections could lead to great disorder, according to the OSCE Baku Office's report to the Warsaw-based OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

Political scientist Khaleddin Ibrahimli told RFE/RL that he agreed with the OSCE forecast. He said that at the same time this is also a warning to the current government. "Candidates are not provided with the requisite conditions to meet with voters," Ibrahimli said. "But certain groups are allowed to disperse these meetings. It is unclear how these certain groups will be directed or towards whom they will be focused on after the elections. This is a growing concern."

Mubariz Ahmedoglu, chairman of the Institute for Political Innovations and Technologies, suggested that there are some forces interested in creating disorder, both before and after the elections.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

The opposition newspaper "Azadlig" writes that the main feature of the current stage of the election campaign is that the government's presidential candidate, Ilham Aliev, is abusing his position as prime minister to achieve formal superiority in his propaganda campaign. Despite being on leave, Ilham Aliyev participates as the acting prime minister in international forums and opening ceremonies of industrial and social institutions. The paper, which terms all these activities illegal, notes that these facts provide grounds to suppose that the elections will not take place in an environment of free competition. The paper suggests that one of the important points is linked with workers in state-financed institutions. These people's freedom of will has been restricted: the government exploits them as it wants.

The opposition newspaper "Baki-Kheber" claims that a week prior to the elections the government will arrest numerous opposition activists on fabricated charges.

According to the pro-government newspaper "525," the Armenian foreign minister has stated that after Ilham Aliyev comes to power, Baku could break the cease-fire agreement between the two countries.

In an interview with the pro-government newspaper "525," Arif Hashimov, head of the Transparent Elections Monitoring Center, says that now the pre-election situation has changed. Voters realize the importance of taking a firm stance and expressing their concrete attitude toward the remaining presidential candidate. Changes such as Heidar Aliev's withdrawal from the election in favor of his son Ilham Aliev, the beginning of Ilham Aliev's active election campaign, as well as heated debates between the candidates, are of great interest to voters.

Commenting on the Transparent Elections Monitoring Center's activities, the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" points out that one of the goals of this institution called Transparent Elections is to conduct consistent polls until the elections and present Ilham Aliyev to public opinion as the candidate with the best chances of winning.

In an interview with the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta," presidential candidate Lale Shovket complains about the low standard of the election campaign. She does not rule out possible confrontations. "We saw this in 1995, 1998, and 2000. The elections are being held on a confrontational level. Unfortunately, civil contention is not being preferred." According to the former secretary of state, a second round is inevitable in a country which is going to the polls with eight candidates. The experience of democratic states proves this. "I think if there is no confrontation, there will certainly be a second round."

The independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" comments on the socio-economic situation in Armenia. The paper writes that although the Armenian government is trying to conceal the tension in the country's social and economic situation, recent decisions have led the situation to the edge of a social explosion. While Armenia's internal production is able to cover 40 percent of the requirement for flour products, the radical increase in demand has led to a doubling in bread prices. Next year the government also intends to increase the price for public utilities and energy resources.

The independent newspaper "Tezadlar" publishes an interview with Mirmahmud Miralioglu, head of the People's Front Party (AXCP) "conservative faction." Commenting on the current pre-election social and political situation in the country, Miralioglu points to the lack of democratic conditions. "Democracy is not simply a means to insult or criticize, but also to learn a lesson from this criticism and eliminate defects. In other words, criticism must also have an effect."

The independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" runs an interview with Ramiz Mehdiev, head of the president's Executive Office. Touching on President Aliev's health, Mehdiev notes that it was difficult to point to a concrete date when the president would return to Baku, since this depended on his doctors. But the president's medical treatment at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation is going well. Mehdiev expresses his confidence that the president will return in October.

Discussing the visit of Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo's to Baku in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," political scientist Rasim Musabekov points out that Russia has revealed its preference for the "family" representative. "Putin has expressed his interest to work with Ilham Aliev. On the other hand, there is no other candidate who could suit Moscow better than Ilham Aliev." But if the course of events takes a radical turn due to possible falsification of the presidential elections, Musabekov does not rule out that the Kremlin would have to make certain amendments to its position. As for Rushailo's visit, the political scientist pointed out that a significant part of the negotiations will be held behind closed doors. "In this regard, some points will reveal themselves in the governmental representatives' behavior after the guest leaves Baku."

The government newspaper "Azerbaycan" writes that positive results have already been achieved in budget revenues during the first eight months of 2003. During this period, 553.5 billion manats ($113.2 million) worth of income tax has entered the state budget, which is 35.5 percent greater than the 1995 annual figure.

Firuz Khudaverdiev, an actor for the National Drama Theatre of Azerbaijan, in an interview with the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" touches on the reason for the decline in audience numbers. "This is linked with the times; economic difficulties," he notes. "But I can say from personal experience that even the poor attend good performances. However, there are also those, who, despite their material welfare, never go to performances because of their narrow world view."

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)