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Azerbaijan: Strains Within Opposition Intensify

Parliamentary elections were held in Azerbaijan in November 2005 (epa) Disagreements over whether or not to participate in the 13 May repeat elections in 10 constituencies in which the outcome of the 6 November parliamentary elections was invalidated now seem increasingly likely to precipitate the collapse of the main opposition election bloc, Azadliq.

Azadliq as a bloc and two of its members -- the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AXCP) and the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (ADP) -- declared weeks ago that they will not field candidates in the revote. But there is reportedly disagreement within the third member of the bloc, Isa Qambar's Musavat party, which will make a formal decision at a meeting of its supreme council on 5 February.

Some leading members of Musavat, including Deputy Chairman Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the party's paper "Yeni Musavat," have insisted they have the right to participate in the repeat ballot, although Arifoglu was subsequently quoted by on 27 January as saying that he will comply with whatever decision the party leadership makes. A second Musavat deputy chairman, Arif Hacili, told the same news agency on 27 January that any members of Musavat who do decide to run on 13 May will be disciplined.

Most observers anticipate nevertheless that Musavat 's leadership will decide to participate in the repeat vote, rather than risk splitting the party over this issue. If Musavat does participate in the new ballot, predicted on 31 January, it stands to win a couple more parliament mandates in addition to the three it already has. That, in turn, could entitle it to one of the six seats on the 18-member Central Election Commission reserved for minority parties.

The End Of Azadliq?

At the same time, a decision by Musavat to field candidates on 13 May would almost inevitably result in the demise of Azadliq as a unified political force.

Both AXCP Deputy Chairman Hasan Kerimov and ADP Deputy Chairman Talyat Aliyev were quoted on 31 January by as warning that if Musavat does make a decision on 5 February to participate in the repeat vote, the party will be expelled from Azadliq.

In a 1 February interview with, Musavat Chairman Qambar made the point that Azadliq was formed with the specific objective of fielding joint candidates for the 6 November ballot, and the question whether to transform it into a permanent political alliance, as AXCP Chairman Ali Kerimli has proposed, remains open. He said while Musavat has always supported the idea of opposition unity, the party will not make "erroneous decisions" in the name of that unity. Later in the same interview, Qambar said it is of little significance to Musavat whether or not it remains a member of Azadliq.

Kerimli for his part rejected on 1 February as "premature" the question whether a new opposition bloc will be formed to replace Azadliq, and whether that bloc would include Musavat.

Kerimli argued that "we should do everything in our power to preserve Azadliq," and added that he personally will work to achieve a consensus among Azadliq's members on boycotting both parliament proceedings and the 13 May repeat vote. But National Unity movement leader Lala Sovket Hacjiyeva, who is close to Azadliq, said on 28 January that unnamed opposition leaders are already engaged in talks on forming a new opposition bloc.

YeS Agrees

The second most influential opposition election alliance, Yeni Siyaset (New Politics, aka YeS) formally announced on 30 January that it will participate in the 13 May revote, and the online daily on 1 February quoted YeS coordinating council member Rasin Hajili as predicting that its candidates could win seven or eight of the 10 vacant seats.

But despite that decision, YeS too is plagued by internal squabbles: Coordinating Council member Eldaniz Quliyev has accused co-founder Eldar Namazov of inconsistency, and both men are reportedly still undecided whether to propose their candidacies on 13 May. (YeS has not yet named any specific candidates.)

At the same time, Namazov has made clear that individual parties that participated in the 6 November ballot under the YeS umbrella are free to decide individually whether to participate in the repeat vote. At least one such party, the wing of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP) that remains loyal to AMIP founder and "leader" Etibar Mammadov, plans to make use of that right, Mammadov told on 1 February. Namazov was quoted by on 31 January as saying that YeS intends to transform itself after the May repeat election into a permanent political alliance.

Shared Aspirations?

Veteran political commentator Rauf Mirkadyrov suggested on 31 January that the respective tactics espoused by Musavat's Qambar and AXCP leader Kerimli are dictated not so much by the 13 May repeat vote as by the two men's shared aspiration to the role of a single opposition candidate in the presidential ballot due in October 2008. (Qambar aspired to that role in 2003, and Kerimli declined to challenge him for it; Mammadov, however, refused to withdraw his candidacy in Qambar's favor.)

Mirkadyrov pointed out that Kerimli campaigned more energetically and eloquently last fall than did Qambar, and that he demonstrated his readiness at a protest in Baku on 26 November to confront the police and launch a permanent sitting protest. Police intervened, however, to disperse that protest swiftly and violently. But as a result of that gesture of defiance, Kerimli can now count on the support of the more radical "protest" electorate.

Moreover, Mirkadyrov continues, Qambar could face competition from within his own party -- from Arifoglu -- for the nomination as Musavat's presidential candidate. A firebrand orator, Arifoglu was one of seven opposition supporters arrested, tried, and sentenced in 2004 for their alleged instigation of the protest demonstrations in Baku in October 2003 in the wake of the presidential ballot that sealed the transfer of presidential power from President Heydar Aliyev to his son Ilham.

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