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Azerbaijan Report: June 27, 2003

27 June 2003
Ruling Party Nominates Incumbent President for Reelection
The New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) in a unanimous vote on 23 June elected its chairman, President Heydar Aliyev to represent the party in the upcoming presidential election. However, members of the opposition again contend that Aliyev is not legally entitled to run for a third term in office. A lawyer for the Independent Investigation Center, created at the initiative of the Amal Intelligentsia Movement says that this in fact contradicts the Constitution. The president's intention to run for a further term is illegal, said Ilgar Altai. Moreover, the president's health prevents him from running. Considering all this Aliyev must step down and let more energetic candidates contest the ballot.

But the members of the ruling party dispute these charges, adding that the president's intention to contest a third term in fact does not violate the Constitution and that Independent Investigation Center is simply biased.

Parliament deputy and YAP activist Aidin Mirzazade pointed out that the Constitution was adopted in1995, and Aliyev was first elected president under that Constitution in 1998, so that the 2003 elections represent his second and not his third term. This does not violate the law, which states that a person is eligible for two consecutive terms as president.

(Rovshen Ganbarov)

Opposition Grouping Agrees On Cooperating For Elections
At a 26 June meeting a group of nine leading opposition parties united under the Opposition Coordination Center agreed on common participation in district and divisional election commissions. Moreover, the participants also discussed a draft agreement between the parties that is to regulate relations between them.

Civil Unity Party chairman Sabir Rustemkhanli in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service expressed the hope that the debates over this draft will be completed by the next meeting and presented to for signature. In the document the parties pledge not to criticize each other during the presidential campaign and election. They also intend to organize a common opposition monitoring on election day.

Rustemkhanli said that the participants also discussed the government's launch of election propaganda before the official start of the campaign period, which began on June 17. The parties' leaders agreed to regularly inform international institutions about this and other violations.

One of the topics discussed at the meeting was the criticism by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) of Azerbaijan's stance on political prisoners. The Opposition Coordination Center appealed again to the government to meet its obligations to international organizations. The Coordination Center also expressed its determination to continue protest actions until it achieves its goals.

(Babek Bekir)

On 26 June Azerbaijan celebrated National Army Day. Elkhan Hesenli in an article entitled "Officers' honor" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" comments on the current situation in the armed forces. "Our army has received its greatest blow not from an enemy, but from behind--from Heydar Aliev--who has disbanded 33 battle-tried battalions after seizing the power� In such a manner he has exterminated people he considered to be dangerous to his power, as well as destroying regions and all of Azerbaijan." Hesenli writes that facts and figures prove that after disbanding the voluntary battalions the losses of the country's army have increased many times over. "Could inexperienced, poorly trained youths and teenagers defeat Armenians united with the Russian army? No! Only our prepared voluntary battalions disbanded by Heydar Aliyev could manage this task. But they were replaced by teenagers, who laid down their weapons at the sight of the enemy, in order to accelerate the surrender of Karabakh� Unfortunately, officers' honor is a rare quality in our army. Today the army is rotted by corruption, nepotism and a cult of personality. And the army's interference in politics is an illegal act comparable with the disbanding of the voluntary battalions."

Ahmed Oruj in the article "At least let us not be late this time" in the pro-governmental newspaper "525" points out that "somehow we cannot get ready in time for essential issues. We were not ready in 1918, 1920 or 1946 or in 1985, 1990, 1991 and 1992. Now it is 2003. Great historical events are now taking place in the region where Azerbaijan is situated. But we are still preoccupied with election problems. We have not managed to hold normal elections since we proclaimed our independence 12 years ago. Every time some group falsifies the results of elections in the world's eyes by speaking about justice and fairness. This problem exists only marginally for some countries that proclaimed their independence simultaneously with Azerbaijan. They are engaged in closer integration with the European Union and NATO." But Azerbaijan is discrediting itself by undertaking obligations before Europe and then not complying with them. The author writes that "while other nations are engaged in building more perfect societies, improving the people's economic conditions, improving organization of their free time and strengthening their health, we are occupied with only one thing. One group does its best to falsify the elections, while the rest tries to prevent this and devise new technologies. Will there be an end to this disgrace? Mezahir Panahov has been reelected the chairman of the Central Election Commission. How can a foreigner familiar with our last parliamentary elections respect us?"

Arhun Sadai, writing in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," notes that the election campaign has begun. Up to now, it was clear that the campaign has started when Sheikh Allahshukur Pashazade, the head of the Religious Board of the Caucasian Moslems, visited districts and tried to convince the local people to vote for President Aliev. This process has ended. Now the sheikh is being followed by other persons, for example, Interior Minister Ramil Usubov. It is said that Usubov is visiting the country's regions as interior minister and this has nothing to do with the presidential elections. But if this is true, then what are other ministers and deputies doing in rural areas? The ministers' visits can be understood, but not those by parliament deputies. The task of a parliament deputy is to go to rural districts in 1995, 2000 and at the latest in 2005 [the dates of parliamentary elections]. What business could a deputy have with the rural population in 2003? This means that they are in fact conducting an election campaign on behalf of the incumbent president.

On 26 June the whole world marked International Day Against Drug Abuse and Trafficking. An author writing only as Fuad in the article "An illness rejuvenating day by day" in the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" writes that the use of drugs in the country is spreading mainly among the national minorities. The author writes that among national minorities the Russians, Lezgins and Jews begin using narcotics at a later age than others, while the Georgians sample drugs earlier. But the highest rate of drug and alcohol use among Azerbaijan's national minorities belongs to the Russians and Lezgins.

In an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" Mezahir Efendiev, national coordinator for the UN South Caucasus Drugs Control Program, noted that according to official sources, to date 17,000 drug addicts have been registered in Azerbaijan. But according to unofficial figures, this number amounts to some 200,000. The Health Ministry estimates that 70 percent of drug addicts are under 35. Efendiev said that a number of international structures call Azerbaijan a "transit country" in terms of drug transportation. It is known that 90 percent of heroin comes from Afghanistan and drugs are transported from Afghanistan in three directions. Some of those drugs are transported to Turkmenistan, whence they are shipped across the Caspian to Azerbaijan.

An author writing only as Osman in the article "Tehran repeats Moscow's deportation plan" in the independent newspaper "Ayna" cites the South Committee of the World Azerbaijanis Congress as saying that Iran's special security services are deporting the local population from South Azerbaijan's Mughan region. But the ambassador in Baku of the islamic Republic of Iran has denied this allegation. Osman writes that he has conducted an independent investigation into the reports and concluded that despite the Iranian ambassador's declaration, the deportation of the Mughan populations is going on. The author notes that the process of resettlement of ethnic Iranian Azerbaijanis from the frontier regions with Azerbaijan began under former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Osman also notes that the Iranian regime has begun to strengthen its army contingent on the border with Azerbaijan since the early1990s. Former Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akber Velayati stated at that time that Tehran should strengthen its activities in South Azerbaijan. The stationing of military bases in Mughan and Khudaferin regions started then. But the strength and number of personnel deployed at these bases has been increased many times over the last few years. Osman claims that one purpose of the deportation is to prevent a possible threat that could emerge against the background of the growing national movement in South Azerbaijan. The other reason is linked with American troops, which are expected to come to South Caucasus to protect the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil export pipeline.

Galib Arif in the article "Once again about the 'common candidate' issue" in the government newspaper "Khalg" writes that a great deal has been spoken and written about the possibility that the opposition will agree on a joint presidential candidate. Sometimes it seems that there is no need to return to this theme. But while leafing through the opposition press, one gets the impression that the subject remains topical. At present all opposition leaders acknowledge the failure to reach agreement on a "common candidate." Only three parties--the People's Front (AXCP), National Independence (AMIP) and Musavat--continue debates on this theme. But even these "discussions" are nothing more than a game that has begun to deceive and confuse the public. The author points out that even if the opposition agreed to field a "common candidate," that candidate would win no more than 7-8 percent of the vote. At the 1998 presidential elections AMIP chairman Etibar Memmedov ran as a common candidate for much of the opposition, but he won only 11 percent of votes. The fact is that if the opposition were sure of winning the elections by selecting a common candidate, it would have chosen this candidate long ago.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)