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Azerbaijan Report: April 1, 2003

1 April 2003
Gambar Throws Hat Into Presidential Ring
A new election coalition announced on 29 March that it has nominated Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar as its candidate in the fall presidential election. Musavat and 12 other parties broke away from the Democratic Congress and announced the formation of the "Our Azerbaijan" election bloc.

The Democratic Congress, which was created in 1993, intended to participate in the 1998 presidential elections with a common candidate as well. But members of the congress could not agree on one candidate to represent the numerous allied parties. The congress split further in 2000 after the death of Abulfez Elchibey, leader of the People's Front Party (AXCP). One faction was headed by Gambar and another by Ali Kerimli, chairman of the AXCP "reformist" faction. But recently Kerimli's faction announced it was leaving the congress.

Kerimli's camp is also negotiating to put forward a common candidate. A 2001 agreement signed by the AXCP "reformist" faction (editor's note: After Elchibey's death, the AXCP also split into two factions, the "reformists" and the "traditionalists") and the National Independence Party (AMIP) indicated that these two parties would participate in the elections with a common candidate. But the document does not specify which party will nominate that candidate, and the issue has caused heated discussions between the two parties.

Seven months remain until the presidential ballot and the current political panorama is not in the opposition's favor. The government and pro-governmental organizations are now taking steps to support a single candidate -- incumbent President Heidar Aliev. The Trade Union Confederation and 26 youth organizations have also announced their support for Aliev's candidacy.

But relations within the opposition camp remain unclear. So far, six opposition party chairmen have announced their intention to run against Aliev. At the same time, oppositionists express their willingness to field a single candidate against Aliev, or should that prove impossible, as few opposition candidates as possible.

(Natig Zeinalli)

The independent newspaper "525" writes that the OSCE Minsk Group's co-chairmen will visit the region from 8-10 April. During the visit the co-chairmen will hold meetings on different levels.

The pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" cites Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev as saying that the war in Iraq does not constitute a threat to Azerbaijan and there is no reason to be concerned about it.

Under the headline "Azerbaijani students have left Iraq," the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" cites the Foreign Ministry's press service as saying that these students are presently in Syria, from where they are to cross the border into Turkey.

Under the headline "Gabala RLS," the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" writes that the United States' attitude toward the leasing of Gabala radiolocation station to Russia has been negative from the very outset.

Nadir Azeri in an article entitled "Unsuccessful visit" in the pro-governmental newspaper "Uch Nogta" comments on the upcoming visit of OSCE Minsk Group's co-chairmen to the region. Azeri notes that Azerbaijan wants Washington to recognize Armenia as the aggressor in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and bring some new energy to the peace process. But Washington's and the co-chairmen's opinions about the problem seem to be different. They constantly state that "the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict must solved peacefully, through political negotiations." The two countries support this view. Nevertheless, there are serious differences over all other issues regarding the settlement of the conflict. The co-chairmen's inaction has destroyed all their hopes. Azeri notes that while Azerbaijani officials say that the mediators will submit new proposals, Armenia claims the contrary. Moreover, the Armenian foreign minister says that Armenia expects from the mediators not new proposals, but revised variants of existing suggestions that have been negotiated since the Key West meeting. So the co-chairman will be content with making dry statements that they are working intensely to persuade the hostile sides. But this will not help achieve a solution to the Karabakh conflict. Then, is there a need for the co-chairmen's visit to the region? the author asks.

Fuzili Memmedov, president of the Interservice group of companies, who was detained in Moscow on 14 June 2001, has been released after a long-running lawsuit. In an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho," Memmedov refutes the allegation that Ramiz Rzaev, Azerbaijan's ambassador in Russia, played a part in his arrest, although he admitted there are indeed some differences between him and the ambassador. Memmedov says that he is not going to participate in the upcoming presidential elections, adding that he has never had any ambitions regarding Azerbaijan. But he said that prior to his arrest he has always tried to help the Azerbaijani people.

Ali Huseinov, deputy chairman of the parliamentary Committee on Legal Policy and Nation-Building Issues, says in an interview with the government newspaper "Azerbaycan" that "election processes in various countries are organized by law-enforcement bodies, but they don't have as many problems as we have.... Our intention is to hold free and democratic elections. But procedural violations are faced in all countries." Huseinov pointed out that "although we have succeeded in building a more democratic state than hostile Armenia, international organizations are using double standards in dealing with the issue." Huseinov also noted that there are radical innovations in the government's draft election code, that are unusual for many countries, and foreign countries can benefit from these innovations.

Ali Rza in an article entitled "The common candidate" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" points out that the last week has at last clarified the form of the Democratic Congress's participation in the presidential elections. The congress has decided to support Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar's candidacy. So, one of the opposition camp's flanks has managed to solve the common candidate and election bloc issue. The congress's decision has put an end to the allegation that Mirmahmud Miralioglu, head of the People's Front Party's (AXCP) "conservative" faction, will participate separately in the presidential ballot, breaking the unity of the Democratic Congress. Miralioglu was, in fact, in no position to vote down Gambar's candidacy. Rza writes that the fact that the Democratic Congress has managed to determine its common candidate and create an election bloc around him is a positive event from the perspective of opposition interests. The number of such election blocs within the opposition camp will, most likely, increase gradually. But reorganization of the opposition around a number of blocs could eventually result in nominating a common opposition candidate, should political forces come to an understanding.

Elkhan Gudretoglu in the article "Local entrepreneurs hope for foreign investment" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" writes that foreign capital has long been expected to promote the development of entrepreneurship in Azerbaijan. But foreign investors' activities have not justified local entrepreneurs' hopes. The Azerbaijani Microfinance Bank (AMB), one of those based on foreign capital, is taking certain steps in this direction, but the problem is that it offers credits with an interest rate of 3 percent per month and demands collateral that exceeds 1 1/2 times the amount of the loan. "Nevertheless, local commercial banks have shown such 'faces' to our unfortunate entrepreneurs that they take loans from the AMB even under such hard conditions. It is not surprised that the bank has overfulfiled its plan on granting credits."

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)