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Azerbaijan Report: July 14, 2002

14 July 2002
Opposition Discusses Planned Constitutional Referendum
Although only a month and a half remains until a national referendum on major changes to the Constitution, most opposition parties have not yet stated their positions on it. The nation is to vote on 24 August on Constitutional amendments proposed by President Heydar Aliyev that include reducing the size of the majority required to elect the president; eliminating proportional elections to parliament; and having the prime minister, rather than the speaker of parliament, assume power if the president is incapacitated. On 10 July, the opposition newspapers "Yeni Musavat" and "Hurriyyet" invited the chairmen of nine large opposition parties to take part in a round table on the forthcoming referendum.

Ilias Ismailov, the chairman of the Adalet (Justice) Party, argued that President Aliyev is not entitled to call the referendum and urged all political organizations to put up a united front to prevent it. Nureddin Memmedli, who was representing Rasul Guliev, the chairman of the Azerbaijani Democrat Party, said that his party has already decided to boycott the referendum. Ali Kerimli, the head of the reformist wing of the Popular Front Party, in his turn, agreed that the president does not have the authority to call a referendum. He warned that if Aliyev succeeds in holding the ballot -- which he said violates the Constitution -- the president might resort to extra-Constitutional means to resolve other national problems such as the Karabakh conflict. Kerimli urged all opposition parties to hold united protests in order to explain the essence of the proposed changes to the people and encourage them to boycott the referendum. Sabir Rustamkhanli, chairman of the Party for Civil Unity, suggested trying to eliminate at least some of the proposed amendments.

Etibar Mamedov, the chairman of National Independence Party, said his party is determined to prevent the referendum, and called on other parties to express their official attitudes toward the referendum. Lala Shovkat Hajieva, the chairwoman of the Liberal Party, supported both the planned boycott and mass protests against the referendum. Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar urged that the date of the referendum be put back a month, that the opposition be allowed to speak on the state television and radio in order to express their opinion, and that the election committee be reorganized. In any case, Musavat is inclined to boycott the referendum, he concluded.

(Babek Bekir)

Journalists Oppose Registration for Referendum Coverage
The Editors' Union has expressed its opposition to the Central Election Commission's (CEC) decision to require journalists to register with the Commission beforehand to cover the 24 August referendum on constitutional amendments. The editors consider the 8 July decision a restriction on freedom of speech and claim that it conflicts with national legislation. Therefore the Editors' Union has decided to bring legal action against the Commission if the CEC does not reverse its decision, according to the chairman of the New Generation Journalist Union, Arif Aliev. Aliyev told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that the CEC had no legal reason to make such a demand. Aliyev said that Azerbaijani legislation, including the Constitution, does not set such restrictions on obtaining and circulating information.

Moreover, it is not clear what criteria the CEC will use in registration of the mass media, he argued. Under such conditions new newspapers and television or radio channels that are created after the end of the registration period will not be able to cover the referendum. In addition, the CEC's intention to provide registered journalists with international observer status is meaningless, Aliyev said. Journalists now possess enough authority and thus do not need such status. Aliyev also said that the CEC is trying to convince people that its planned registration is part of reform of the Commission. But first of all the Commission should take measures to exclude fraud during the referendum and to stabilize its activities, he said.

Vidadi Mahmudov, an opposition member of the Central Election Commission, agreed that the CEC decision is illegal, adding that the CEC is exceeding its authority. Mahmudov said that although the chairman of the CEC, Mezahir Penahov, has tried to justify the plan to register mass media representatives by saying it wants to provide them with international observer status, in fact the CEC is trying to restrict the media's activities.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

According to the independent Russian-language newspaper "Nedelya," members of the disbanded Special Forces Police Detachment (OMON) cannot obtain war veteran status because the documents confirming their participation in the Karabakh war have been destroyed.

Ali Kerimli, the head of the reformist wing of the Popular Front Party, in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," expresses his opinion on opposition activities, the 24 August referendum on constitutional changes and other issues. According to Kerimli, the best instrument for defeating the current government is a new form of cooperation between the opposition forces.

According to the 12 July issue of the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan," the Popular Front Party is becoming the target of new political intrigue, and the recent confrontation within the party is serving to weaken the organization further.

Political scientist Eldar Namazov in an interview with the independent newspaper "525" says that no political force can rule the state alone after assuming power.

Nijat Daglar in an article entitled "Abiev's dignity" in the 12 July issue of the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" comments on the presentation of Defense Minister Safar Abiev with the Order of Dignity during his visit to Turkey. Daglar wonders whether the chief of staff of the defeated state was sweating and slaving when he got the award. The whole world knows that the state where he is defense minister has been occupied. And if its lands have been occupied, it means than the people living there have been insulted and its honor has been blackened, Daglar argues. In that case did Abiev have the right to receive the honor? Is such a thing possible at a time when an Azeri officer is killed on the front during a cease-fire, Azeri soldiers are sick with tuberculosis, more than a million Azeris have been driven out of their native lands and some compatriots are being held captive? The author recommends that Azeri generals not wear a lot of military honors and instead keep a place for the order of victory.

Orkhan Kerimov, president of the Economic Development Association, comments in the 12 July issue of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" on a promise by oil major BP to make its activities more transparent. The economist considers BP's declaration to be a protest against bribable regimes. The statement is also a message sent from a strategic foreign investor to the public and to the next government, he says. According to Kerimov, oil issues in several states, including Azerbaijan, play an important role in political stability and leadership. International oil companies and the West in general, which makes large investments in Azerbaijan, are interested in stability within the framework of their interests.

Mushvig Huseinov in an article entitled "Competitor prepared to 'Presidential' Bank" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" argues that the banking business consists of nothing other than theories and instruments for financial machinations. Huseinov notes that Chairman of the National Bank Elman Rustamov is preparing to hold a press conference to announce officially the merger of two commercial banks, Promtechbank and Mbank. According to Huseinov, the union of the two banks is evidence of a struggle for power between two factions in the presidential camp. Promtechbank, like Azerbaijan Electronics, is believed to be controlled by Ramiz Mehdiev, the head of the President's Executive Apparatus. Thus the merger with Mbank cannot be achieved without his permission, and will strengthen his position. The author believes that Rustamov, in his turn, supports Mehdiev's efforts to strengthen his "bank power." Huseinov adds that there is conflict between Mehdiev and the president's son Ilham Aliyev -- who is believed to control the National Bank, which is nicknamed the "Presidential Bank" -- and the political struggle between them ceased to be a secret long ago.

An author writing only as Araz in a commentary entitled "Aliyev makes the people forget Karabakh through elections" in the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" writes that since taking power, President Aliyev has tried to separate Karabakh from the people and the people from Karabakh in a conscious but tragic manner. According to Araz, after the 24 August constitutional referendum the leadership can hold scheduled parliamentary elections. But these elections, which bring the state nothing other than damage and tragedies, serve to make the people forget Karabakh.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)