27 August 2002
Government and Opposition Begin Next Round in Referendum Struggle
The Central Election Commission (CEC) announced on 24 August that 88.42 percent of the electorate voted in that day's referendum on amendments to the Constitution and 97 percent of voters supported the proposed changes. Mezahir Penahov, the chairman of the CEC, held a press conference on Saturday (24 August) night to announce the preliminary results of the referendum. According to Penahov, the office of the CEC did not receive information on irregularities.
But two days later, the heads of four leading opposition parties said that no more than 15 percent of the electorate participated in the voting. At a press conference on 26 August, the chairmen of the Democrat, Popular Front, Musavat and National Independence parties, who had agreed not to take part in the referendum, stated that there were numerous cases of falsification and pressure on opposition observers. The opposition parties, which called the result of the referendum illegal, intend to appeal against the results and submit their evidence to the European Court of Human Rights.
Musavat Chairman Isa Gambar said that the opposition parties are going to hold protests and appealed to the Azerbaijani people to support them.
Members of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party who attended the press conference tried to disrupt it and their retorts to the opposition leaders led to a tense atmosphere. To try to calm the situation, the hotel management decided to end the conference. But the tension continued even in the streets when members of the party and the National Independence Party created another standoff.
The independent newspaper "Yeni zaman" in an article entitled "Unprecedented falsification" says that the opposition must remain united to prove there was falsification of the referendum results. The pro-governmental newspapers "Khalg" and "Azerbaycan" write that the opposition, which agreed not to take part in the referendum, did not achieve its goal of preventing a quorum from being reached.
The newspaper "Azerbaycan" in the article "Observers from the opposition tried to disrupt voting on purpose" argues that opposition interference was done on the instructions of the opposition leaders.
Council of Europe representative Andreas Gross expresses his attitude to the referendum in an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo." Gross said that he was surprised at the assertion of Ilham Aliev, the president's son, that "Gross is not a friend of Azerbaijan." "As an ideologist I do not accept the 'foe' metaphor," Gross says. "I am not a nationalist either. Therefore the 'to be not a concrete friend of some people' is a meaningless expression for me." Speaking about the results of the referendum, Gross noted that he visited three electoral districts. He agreed with opposition parties that there were numerous falsifications during the voting.
Azer Aihan in an article entitled "Our common fate" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni musavat" comments on the events taking place in the opposition camp and writes that the trust of the people in the opposition is falling. The situation is so strained that the opposition parties are forced to come together. According to the author, President Heidar Aliev's "winning" the 2003 presidential election could call the future of the opposition and other democratic institutions into question. Aihan adds that it is wrong to blame only the unconstitutional behavior of the authorities for the opposition's failure to come to power. The opposition, he argues, could limit the president's abilities to commit illegal actions.
Hikmet Sabiroglu in the article "Winning series" in the independent newspaper "Azadlig" writes that the opposition does not have enough support among the people. There are several reasons: First of all, the people cannot overcome psychological fears dating from the unrest of 1992-93. Even that part of the population which does not support the present leadership has a dread of returning to the confusion of that era. In general the traditional opposition is associated with the period of former President Abulfez Elchibey in 1992-93. Internal confrontations in the opposition camp, for their part, increase the population's distrust.
The independent newspaper "525" in the article "New proposal regarding the Caspian" writes that Russia has taken the initiative and proposed broadening the national zones in the Caspian Sea from 10 miles to 15 miles from shore. Baku supports dividing the sea, including its surface and bed, into national sectors. Though the Azerbaijani authorities have softened their position a little, the leadership does not want to compromise because the constitution considers the boundaries of the Azeri sector of the sea to be national borders -- which can only be changed by national referendum.
An author writing only as Orkhan in the article "Stirring up" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" considers the possibility of a power struggle in the government camp. The author alleges that though the supporters of parliamentary speaker Murtuz Aleskerov are widely represented in the leadership, their powers are limited. Orkhan rules out the possibility of an open struggle between the Aliyev backers and the Aleskerov supporters. But there are indications that the "Aleskerovs" will eventually be forced to take a stand. Citing confidential sources, the author claims that in the near future President Aliyev will either dissolve parliament and call new elections, or change the speaker in order to divert public attention from him. Therefore the Aleskerovs' present activization can be considered to be resistance to the future danger. According to Orkhan, the referendum on amendments to the constitution was a great blow to the Aleskerovs, since the speaker lost his number-two position in the regime. But, Orkhan writes, the speaker has succeeded in strengthening his tribe enough to guarantee himself a leading position in the post-Aliyev period.
(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)