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Azerbaijan Report: March 14, 2003

14 March 2003
Opposition, Administration, Remain At Odds Over Draft Election Law
On 10 March, presidential administration representative Shahin Aliev, the author of the government's draft of the unified election code, and expert Fuad Agaev, representing the Opposition Coordination Center, failed to agree on the disputed election code. The meeting lasted only half an hour, because the parties would not accept each other's proposals. The two initially met on 6 March at the initiative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Baku office but did not come to any compromise. At that point they decided to set the 10 March meeting.

Agaev told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that Aliyev turned down the opposition's proposal to modify the article on how election committees are composed and insisted that the draft law must be discussed in its entirety and not on the basis of one issue. Agaev linked the breakdown of talks with the president being out of the country, as government representatives cannot make any decisions without first getting Heidar Aliev's blessing.

"Of course, the president's absence is affecting the issue. On all occasions, we are ready for further debates. I think if there is an agreement on election committees, it will be easier to agree on the election code's other articles."

Bahar Muradova, a parliament deputy from the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP), is generally against discussing the election code outside parliament. She noted that at present the document is under the parliament's consideration and opposition deputies also take part in these debates. Moreover, the election code was put before the public during the OSCE roundtable talks before it was submitted to parliament.

The OSCE held several roundtable discussions on the draft code beginning in December 2002, in hopes of reaching some kind of government-opposition compromise on the document. But the nine opposition parties united under the Opposition Coordination Center boycotted the discussions, arguing that its terms for holding the roundtable -- most notably having a representative from the presidential administration present -- were not fulfilled.

The opposition is pushing for forming election committees with members of all political parties that passed the 1 percent barrier during the last parliamentary elections. But according to the draft law, one third of committees' members must be YAP representatives, one third neutral deputies and one third representatives of other political parties represented in the parliament. Moreover, the government suggests that three of the committees' members must be judges.

Agaev said that if election committees were created in this way, the opposition would be able to take at best two seats there as most of the neutral representatives in fact support the government and judges are rarely independent from the ruling powers. With this kind of election commission, the opposition says, the government will be ready to falsify results of the October presidential elections.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Karabakh Freedom Organization Compares Iraqi War Logic To Karabakh Issue
On 12 March, the Karabakh Freedom Organization (KFO) held a roundtable discussion on the Iraq crisis and the Karabakh issue with the participation of local organizations. Participants of the meeting emphasized that all facts must be investigated in detail before force is used against Iraq.

KFO Chairman Akif Nagi was the first to speak. He said that they oppose a possible war against Iraq. "Today the United States and Great Britain as well as some others insist on using force against Iraq, referring to the fact that Baghdad does not fulfil UN resolutions, supports international terrorism and develops a nuclear-weapon program," Nagi said. "But if these factors make a war against Iraq unavoidable, then the world's attitude toward Baghdad must be evaluated as a double standard. Because all these factors are also true for Armenia, which doesn't comply with the United Nation's resolutions either."

Nagi also expressed concern about the Iraqi Turkomans' future. He noted that among Turkic peoples Turkomans are ethnically closest to Azeris, as they migrated from Azerbaijan to Iraq.

The resolution adopted at the end of the meeting stated that charges directed against Iraq could also be put against Armenia, which has avoided fulfilling the four UN resolutions. "Together this demands immediate international sanctions and the use of force against Armenia."

(Almaz Mahmudgizi)

Under the headline "A historical step calculated for Azerbaijan's independent future," the governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan" recalls that on 14 March 1991 the Supreme Council of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic decided not to participate in the March 1991 referendum on the preservation of the Soviet Union.

Gunduz Tahirli, the founder of the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," responds to questions from the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" regarding the creation of a media council. Tahirli says that the media council could be a significant step in the establishment of democratic traditions in Azerbaijan. As for some media representatives' intention to boycott the first congress of Azerbaijani journalists, Tahirli says that all chances for cooperation have not yet been missed. It is wrong to express pessimistic opinions on the threshold of the congress.

Azerbaijanis newspapers gave wide coverage to the visit to France of Ilham Aliev, President Aliev's son and vice president of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR).

The independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" cites French Ambassador to Azerbaijan Chantal Poiret as saying that French President Jacques Chirac received Ilham Aliyev not as a prime minister, but as the vice president of SOCAR. Poiret denied the allegation that Aliyev enlisted the support of France for his anticipated appointment as Azerbaijani prime minister.

The independent newspaper "525" notes that during the 46th meeting of the CIS frontier troops' commanders it was decided to form a united protection system of the CIS state borders.

Under the headline, "International organizations' interest in the Azerbaijani agrarian sector is increasing," the governmental newspaper "Khalg" writes that at present a number of projects taking place with the aim of widening relations in the agrarian sector with both developed and regional countries.

Gursel in "From presidential elections...toward a civil war?" in the independent newspaper "Ayna" writes that the government's ideologists are as likely to amend their draft election law as they are the chapters of the Koran. The presidential ballot is coming, but neither the date of the vote nor the law that will regulate it is clear. Gursel reminds that the draft law must be adopted by the middle of April. But it is difficult to believe this will happen when looking at the state of discussions. Even if the code comes into force by that time, the preparation of its final version will take a long time. The lost time is in the government's best interest. Therefore the opposition has darkened the color of its latest statements, which go beyond the limits of "a struggle within the framework of the law." The opposition camp now issues ultimatums noting that forging the outcome of the ballot could lead to a civil war. Such a development of events is not unwanted, of course. But these statements can no longer be considered "a simple element of declarative activity." What is at stake is just too high.

Lale Shovket Hajieva, chairwoman of the opposition Liberal Party (ALP), says in an interview with the independent newspaper "Khalg Cebhesi" that a dialogue on the draft election code must take place. If the government and opposition do not come to a common denominator as a result of a constructive dialogue, it will lead to a confrontation.

Nadir Azeri in the article "American soldiers can appear in the Caspian" in the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" writes that problems regarding the legal status of the Caspian Sea remain to be resolved. Azeri notes that after the collapse of the Soviet Union the Russian-Iranian insistence has prevented a settlement within the framework of international principles. But the current geopolitical situation is making Russia come to terms with reality. But unfortunately, Iran has not learned its lesson from the Russian experience. Moreover, Turkmenistan, which has become famous for going against all development processes, has also begun to raise its claims. According to observers, Tehran is generally determined to solve the problem at its discretion. Azeri writes that Washington's reaction to the issue has been expected. Professor Steven Miller of Harvard University said at a 10 March meeting of the American-Azerbaijani Chamber of Commerce that the Caspian basin is situated close to the regions embraced by the antiterrorism campaign. "Therefore we need an infrastructure that will ensure our national security." Azeri also cites local observers saying that the United States' concern about the Caspian is not irrelevant. In short, Azerbaijan can deflect a threat directed against it by cooperating with U.S. and other Western countries.

Etibar Memmedov, head of the opposition National Independence Party (AMIP), says in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" that a regime change in Azerbaijan is not avoidable. He noted that various local organizations are backing Heidar Aliev's candidacy for the upcoming presidential elections. But what is regrettable is that under the law these institutions are not entitled to politicize and nominate a presidential candidate. According to the law on trade unions, they cannot interfere in politics. The nomination of the president is a political decision. Memmedov recalls that the Red Crescent Society has also made a similar decision, adding that under the society's regulations, it has no right to be engaged in politics. This demonstrates that Aliev's command has begun an election campaign long before the ballot. That signifies that the government has learned a serious lesson from the 1998 elections.

Ramiz Nejefli in an article entitled "Is it right to go into mourning in Ashura?" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" points out that as well as in other countries, on the day of Ashura Azerbaijani people also visited mosques and keep religious traditions and devotions. Or rather, Muslims damage their health by flagellating themselves with chains. Some religious figures have recently protested against such traditions. Religious scientist Nariman Gasimoglu says that martyrdom is a holiday for a spirit risen to the highest level. Moreover, the death of Husein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, is the greatest example of heroism. Therefore, Gasimoglu argues, it is wrong to mourn for him, adding that a number of Ashura's religious rites contradict Azerbaijani national cultural heritage.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)