Azerbaijani parliamentarian Siyavush Novruzov, who is deputy executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, told journalists in Baku on August 10 that when it reconvenes for the fall session, the parliament plans to adopt a new law regulating the activities of, and funding for, political parties. Novruzov argued
that there are numerous contradictions between the existing law, enacted in 1992, and the Azerbaijan Republic Constitution.
The law on political parties has been amended several times, in November 1996, October 2001, July 2002, and December 2003. Originally adopted in November 1995, the constitution too was amended in two national referendums in August 2002 and March 2009.
The need to amend the law on political parties has been raised periodically over the past couple of years. Over that time, at least two opposition parties -- Musavat and Great Creation -- have drafted alternative bills, but the parliament refused to debate
either of them. In late June, at the height of the international protests over the contentious legislation imposing restrictions on the activities of NGOs in Azerbaijan, Novruzov said that the parliament planned amendments to the existing law on political parties, but on August 10 he said a totally new law is currently being drafted.
Among the points Novruzov made in late June was the relatively low number of signatures currently required in order to register a political party. According to Article 14
of the existing law, to qualify for registration a party must have a minimum of 1,000 members but must submit only an application containing the signatures of the members of its leading bodies and their addresses.
Novruzov proposed raising the minimum number of signatures to 1 percent of the number of registered voters, of whom there are currently approximately 5 million in Azerbaijan. He claimed that some registered political parties, which he did not name, have been transformed into commercial enterprises, and he said they should therefore be required to reregister with the Justice Ministry.
Novruzov also advocated
that registered political parties should receive funding from the state budget, the volume of which should be proportional to the number of parliament mandates held by individual parties. Article 17 of the current law stipulates that political parties must finance their own activities and are eligible to receive funds from the state budget only during election campaigns, in accordance with the Election Code.
Novruzov's proposals on state funding for political parties raise the question -- an alarming one in light of Azerbaijan's history of blatantly rigged elections -- whether only those political parties that win parliamentary representation will qualify for such subsidies.
On August 10, Novruzov explained that the proposed new regulations regarding the financing of political parties are intended to render their activities "transparent" and to preclude the possibility of parties receiving funding from abroad. He also mentioned a further alarming provision of the planned new law: that political parties that decline to participate in elections may be stripped of their registration as a result. He did not specify whether he meant parliamentary or presidential elections or both.
The opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party boycotted the presidential elections in 1998 and 2008 to protest what it termed the lack of equal and fair conditions for all political parties that wished to participate.
Opposition reactions to Novruzov's statements have been cautious. Commenting on Novruzov's June statement, Party of Democratic Reforms Chairman Assim Mollazade told day.az
that any amendments to the existing law "should in the first instance be directed at strengthening political parties."
Arif Gadjili of the opposition Musavat party told
the same news agency on August 12 that the existing law is "quite democratic." At the same time, Gadjili welcomed the prospect of funding from the state budget, adding that political parties should also be provided with "normal conditions to function freely," including office space. In recent years, several opposition parties have been summarily evicted from premises they rented either from state bodies or from private persons.
Opposition parliamentarians Sardar Jalaloglu (Democratic Party of Azerbaijan) and Sabir Rustamkhanli (Civic Solidarity) both said they plan to table additional proposals when the debate on the new draft bill gets under way.