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Caucasus Report: September 26, 2005


26 September 2005, Volume 8, Number 33

REGISTRATION OF AZERBAIJANI ELECTION CANDIDATES ENDS. The processing of applications from would-be candidates in the 6 November Azerbaijani parliamentary election ended on 7 September. Of a total of 2,149 applicants, 2,062 were formally registered (three subsequently withdrew), according to day.az on 8 September.

But due to discrepancies between two sets of data posted on the website (http://www.cec.gov.az) of the Central Election Commission (MSK), determining the precise number of candidates any given political party is fielding is problematic. This is because some parties or blocs have endorsed candidates who are not members of that party, or who belong to a different party, while some candidates who are members of a given party have chosen to participate in the ballot as independents. For example, the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP) nominated candidates in only 101 of the 125 constituencies, but the total number of YAP members participating in the election is 433. Conversely, the conservative wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) is listed as having only one candidate, although AHCP Chairman Mirmahmoud Miralioglu told Trend News Agency that his party is backing 115 candidates, according to day.az on 20 September. Similarly, only 59 of the 67 Liberal Party of Azerbaijan candidates are actually members of that party.

The opposition Azadlyq (Liberty) bloc, which unites the opposition Musavat party, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, and the progressive wing of the AHCP, leads with the largest number of candidates (115), followed by YAP; the opposition bloc Yeni Siyaset (YeS, or New Politics), which unites the Azerbaijan National Independence Party, the Social-Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, nonpartisan candidates, and individual politicians from various opposition parties (69); and the opposition Liberal Party of Azerbaijan (67). In all, 26 individual parties and blocs will participate in the election, compared with 11 in 1995 (including five opposition parties) and 19 in 2000. The total number of candidates, too, is several times larger than in previous parliamentary ballots: in some constituencies there will be 30-40 names on the ballot sheet.

All parliamentarians are to be elected in single-mandate constituencies; the provision that 20 percent of deputies (25 of the total 125) are elected on the basis of party lists was abolished in the constitutional referendum in August 2002 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 1 July 2002 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2002).

In contrast to previous elections, few opposition candidates encountered problems in registering, even Azerbaijan's two most notorious political exiles, former President Ayaz Mutallibov (YeS), and former parliament speaker and DPA Chairman Rasul Guliev (Azadlyq). Both men face arrest, however, if they return to Azerbaijan, but Guliev's supporters have said he is nonetheless prepared to take that risk and will arrive in Baku no later than 15 October, Turan reported on 19 September. It is, moreover, unclear whether the MSK's wholesale registration of candidates reflects a laudable commitment to democracy or shrewd calculation that the greater the number of candidates in any given constituency the narrower the chance of any opposition candidate defeating the candidate of the "party of power."

The lack of obstacles during registration has not continued into the early stage of the campaign. On the contrary, opposition candidates, especially those from Azadlyq, have complained that as in previous ballots, provincial police and local government officials are openly supporting YAP candidates or nominal independents backed by the current leadership, while systematically harassing opposition candidates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2005).

Some opposition candidates have also protested aspects of the amended election legislation that they consider discriminatory, in particular the provision that only parties that have nominated over 60 candidates qualify for free airtime on public television. Each registered candidate is entitled to 1 million manats ($217.72) from the state budget to cover the costs of his/her campaign, but just one minute's paid TV advertising costs between $420-$850 on the private television station ANS, between $295-$590 on Azerbaijan TV, and between $420-$640 on the private Space TV, according to zerkalo.az on 9 September, quoting mediaforum.az. Rates on the recently launched Azerbaijan Public Television will be lower than those on private channels, channel General Director Ismail Omarov announced on 5 September without citing specific tariffs. The maximum a candidate may spend on campaign advertising is 412.5 million manats ($88,000), MSK spokesman Azer Saryev told echo-az.com as published on 26 August. (Liz Fuller)

KABARDINO-BALKARIA PRESIDENT QUITS DUE TO ILLNESS. Valerii Kokov submitted his resignation as president of the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria (RKB) to Russian President Vladimir Putin on 16 September, citing his deteriorating health, Russian media reported. Kokov, who is 66, has headed the republic for 14 years. He has undergone at least one operation for throat cancer, and at the time of his resignation he was reportedly hospitalized in Moscow. In line with an unwritten law, the next president will almost certainly, like Kokov, be a Kabardian -- Kabardians are the republic's largest ethnic group and account for 46 percent of the RKB's total population of some 897,000.

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 September named two potential candidates to succeed Kokov. The first is Arsen Kanokov, the head of a Moscow firm, who was elected to the Russian State Duma as a candidate for Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia but subsequently defected to the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia. The second is Moscow-based lawyer Albert Kadjarov, who ran unsuccessfully against Kokov in the January 2002 presidential ballot. Kokov was reelected for a third term with 96 percent of the vote; Kadjarov finished in third place with a paltry 1.8 percent. While Kanokov enjoys the support of the "party of power," Kadjarov can reportedly rely on that of many members of the RKB's Muslim clergy, whose relations with Kokov's administration Mufti Anas Pshekhachev can be defined as infused by "personal animosity."

"Kommersant-Daily" on 17 September identified several other possible choices, first and foremost Gennadii Gubin, who served for years as Kokov's vice president until his appointment as RKB prime minister 18 months ago. Gubin, said to be "an extremely competent specialist," will serve as interim acting president until the republic's parliament proposes a successor to Kokov. (In the event that Gubin, a Russian, is chosen as president, then the post of prime minister would go to a Kabardian.) Also in the running to succeed Kokov, according to "Kommersant-Daily," are Khachim Karmokov, who represents the RKB in the Federation Council, and RKB Security Council Secretary Oleg Shandirov. But RKB parliament speaker Khuseyn Chechenov was quoted on 17 September by kommersant.ru as saying that "it is already clear" that Kanokov will be selected. Chechenov described Kanokov as a successful businessman, with an excellent grounding in economic and budget issues (he is deputy chairman of the Duma's Committee on the Budget and Taxation).

If elected, Kanokov will need to draw on that expertise as he gets to grips with Kokov's economic legacy. According to kommersant.ru, of the RKB's total 6.43 billion rubles ($226.3 million) in budget expenditures in 2005, 3.37 billion rubles were subsidies from the federal center. The average monthly wage is 3,685 rubles ($130). Registered unemployment as of early 2005 was 20.5 percent; the crime rate was the fourth highest in the entire Russian Federation.

Nor is the ailing economy the only, or even the most serious problem, the new RKB president will face. He must also find a way to counter the growing alienation of the Balkar minority, some of whom are again demanding their own separate republic, and to stem the increasing popularity and influence of clandestine radical Islamic djamaats that, according to one Russian commentator, seek "to create a separate social space where Russian social and legal norms no longer obtain." While some of those radical Islamic groups eschew violence, one -- Yarmuk, which had close links with the Chechen resistance -- launched a deadly raid in December 2004 on the Nalchik office of the federal antidrug agency. Four of Yarmuk's members were surrounded and killed in Nalchik in late April. But the Chechens may well be planning to launch more such attacks in conjunction with local militants: among the commanders Chechen resistance leader Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev named in early May of this year was one with responsibility for military activity on the so-called "Kabardino-Balkar sector." (Liz Fuller)

FORMER ARMENIAN PRESIDENT'S PARTY MULLS ALLIANCE WITH RADICAL OPPOSITION. The former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) is increasingly sympathetic to, and would not mind setting up an alliance with, the Hanrapetutiun party headed by former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian, HHSh Deputy Chairman Aram Manukian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 16 September. Hanrapetutiun is the most radical of the mainstream opposition parties. Manukian said the HHSh, which remains the main support base of former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, and Hanrapetutiun share the same "goals and ways of achieving them." "That is absolutely possible because we have no ideological differences," he said, commenting on the possibility of an HHSh-Hanrapetutyun alliance. "Relations between the leaders and the youth wings of our parties are very close and even friendly on the personal level. Nothing prevents us from engaging in a very serious program-based cooperation with the Hanrapetutiun party."

Manukian pointed out that the two parties have already acted jointly in the past. "Two years ago, when [President Robert Kocharian's] previous constitutional draft was put to a referendum, only two parties, the HHSh and Hanrapetutiun, officially rejected and campaigned against it. Today the two parties again have the most principled, radical, and audacious attitudes to the process of constitutional changes." Manukian was speaking during a seminar jointly organized by the youth wings of the two opposition groups. "We are not afraid of such cooperation," said Hanrapetutiun youth leader Vahan Babayan.

Sargsian, who is perceived by the ruling government as its most dangerous opponent, is known to have maintained personal contacts with some members of Ter-Petrossian's inner circle, especially since a radical pro-Western shift in Sargsian's foreign policy late last year. Sargsian and his associates now openly advocate Armenia's withdrawal from the Russian-dominated CIS Collective Security Treaty and accession to NATO. The eight other parties aligned in Artarutiun favor a more cautious stance. They are also wary of any contacts with the HHSh, which remains highly unpopular more than seven years after Ter-Petrossian's resignation.

Sargsian's readiness to cooperate with the ex-president's allies was apparently one of the reasons for the bitter rift within the Hanrapetutiun leadership that led seven members of Hanrapetutiun's 15-strong governing board to quit the party earlier this month in protest against its increasingly pro-Western position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 2005). Two of the dissenters, former Yerevan Mayor Albert Bazeyan and former Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian, announced on 14 September their plans to establish a new political party, the founding congress of which will take place next month.

Sargsian and his entourage have played down the rift, saying that the vast majority of Hanrapetutiun chapters across Armenia remain loyal to them. A Hanrapetutiun statement on 16 September said only the party branches in Gyumri, Ashtarak, Echmiadzin, and Yerevan's Arabkir District sided with the dissenters and were disbanded as a result. The crisis forced Sargsian's party to call an emergency congress which is due to take place by the end of this month. (Narek Galstian)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "The North and the South Caucasus cannot be divided by any borders, any other factors, because for centuries the region lived in a state of mutual influence, mutual penetration, and mutual support." -- Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, meeting on 21 September with the participants of an international conference on Islam (quoted by day.az on 22 September).

"I view the election [on 27 November for a new Chechen Parliament] as the final decisive battle for Chechnya, the Caucasus, and the whole of Russia." -- Former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantamirov, who will participate in the ballot as a candidate for the Russian opposition Motherland party (quoted by "Novye izvestiya" on 9 September).

"Azerbaijan is not a puppet state that can be overthrown by 10,000-15,000 oppositionists. Those times are long past." -- Azerbaijani Interior Minister Ramil Usubov, speaking at a press conference in Baku on 22 September (quoted by zerkalo.az on 23 September).

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