Two months after the November 7 elections in which Azerbaijan's mainstream opposition parties lost their tiny handful of parliament mandates, veteran political figures have adopted a new strategy for promoting democratization and consensus-building. Meeting on December 28 in Baku, defeated parliamentary candidates reached agreement on creating a new Civic Movement for Democracy -- Public Chamber. How successful it will prove to be is questionable, however.
The new movement currently has some 80 members, including the leaders of the Musavat, Azerbaijan Popular Front, and National Independence parties (Isa Qambar, Ali Kerimli, and Yusif Bagirzade respectively) and of the Union for a Single Azerbaijan (Adil Samedbeyli). Participants at the forum elected a nine-person coordinating council
comprising those four leaders; former independent parliament deputy Panah Huseyn; independent oil-sector workers' labor union head Mirvari Qahramanli; lawyers Vidadi Mirkamal and Annagi Gajibeyli; and respected Muslim cleric and human rights activist Ilgar Ibrahimoglu.
The forum participants adopted a declaration outlining the movement's aims and how to achieve them. The movement will conduct research and draft programs, concepts and even laws. Its activities will be aimed, according to Qambar, at promoting democratization and offering alternative solutions
to the problems the country faces. It will conduct a nonviolent peaceful struggle, within the framework of the constitution, in order "to restore popular representation in the organs of power" following an election that, in Qambar's words, "cannot be considered legitimate."
The December 28 forum was the third since the November 7 ballot: at the first two, on November 23-24 and December 14, the 100 or so participants discussed various approaches to consolidation but failed to reach agreement.
Kerimli on December 14 advocated adopting a broad common strategy encompassing not only democratization, but also improving the electoral process and ensuring transparency in budget spending and a crackdown on corruption. Society for Democratic Reforms co-founder Razi Nurullayev, for his part, argued that the new body should adopt a civic, rather than a political platform in order to attract the broadest possible public support
The idea of a civic forum appears to have originated with Huseyn, who was elected in 2005 as an independent candidate on the Musavat Party list and tirelessly challenged government policy for the next five years. At the November forum, Huseyn called for a shadow parliament
that would adopt "symbolic laws." But Qambar failed to endorse that idea, saying only it merited scrupulous evaluation
In a variation on his original proposal, at the second (December 14) forum Huseyn suggested creating "a single civic movement for democracy" composed of defeated parliamentary candidates and "other authoritative figures" -- hence the inclusion of Qahramanli and Ibrahimoglu in the nine-person coordinating council.
Yet however respected its members, the new Public Chamber will face a struggle to survive in a political environment where the odds are stacked against it. The opposition has little opportunity to convene public meetings and no access to television, the preferred news medium of most of the population. Its "godfathers" -- Qambar and Kerimli -- represent the postindependence "first wave" of the opposition, and it is not yet clear whether prominent "second-wave" figures such as Eldar Namazov will join them.
In addition, the long-standing rivalry between Qambar and Kerimli may create tensions within the new body. True, the two men aligned this summer in an election bloc that could have served as the first step
toward a merger between their two parties. But their rivalry is likely to resurface at the latest in the run-up to the presidential election due in 2013, in which commentators believe they will both participate
, as may Huseyn.