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Azerbaijan Report: July 7, 2003

7 July 2003
Ilham Aliyev Will Run in Presidential Elections
On 4 July the Central Election Commission registered Ilham Aliyev as a presidential candidate in the elections scheduled for 15 October. His candidacy was proposed by a group of voters in the Nakhichevan State Dramatic Theatre. Central Election Commission chairman Mezahir Penahov then pointed out that Ilham Aliev's candidacy was filed by the group of voters, not the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP). On 23 June the YAP in a unanimous vote elected its chairman, President Heydar Aliyev to represent the party in the presidential ballot.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service Fuad Agaev, head of the National Independence Party's (AMIP) election headquarters, said that this issue can be considered in two ways. In the legal context, there is not a problem. In other words, Heydar Aliyev is the official candidate from the YAP, while Ilham Aliyev is nominated as the candidate of a group of voters. Nevertheless, Agaev noted that the nomination of Ilham Aliev, along with the president, could create confusion and misunderstanding within the ruling team. Not all YAP members are aware of processes taking place behaaind the scene.

YAP activist Arif Alekberov supported Ilham Aliev's nomination. "There is nothing strange here," he said, "any group of voters or organization can endorse Ilham Aliev's candidacy by collecting signatures." YAP decided to nominate and support the incumbent president in the elections. "But this does not mean that another YAP member cannot be nominated."

(Almaz Nasibova)

Former Minister Sentenced in Retrial
Following a 13-month long retrial, former Interior Minister Iskander Hamidov has been sentenced to 11 years in prison. Hamidov was arrested in 1995 and first sentenced later that year to 14 years imprisonment on charges of abuse of power and embezzlement of state funds.

In 2002, under pressure from the Council of Europe, Baku agreed to review the case of Hamidov, along with those of former Defense Minister Rahim Gaziev and Alikram Humbatov, who in 1993 declared the independent Talysh Mughan Republic. The Council of Europe considers these people to be political prisoners. Gaziev and Humbatov were sentenced to death on similar charges, but later their sentences were commuted to life imprisonment.

To date Hamidov has served eight years and four months in jail and so he is to be released in two years and seven months. Hamidov�s lawyer Vidadi Mahmudlu told RFE/RL's Azerbaijan service that "the current legislation allows the premature release of prisoners who have served the majority of their sentence. The fact that this has not been extended to Hamidov proves again that the courts are not independent."

(Zhale Mutallimova)

Opposition Leaders Sign Cooperation Pact
On 2 July a group of nine leading opposition parties united under the Opposition Coordination Center signed an agreement on cooperation and mutual commitment in the presidential elections. According to Serdar Jelaloglu, press secretary of the Democratic Party, the document consists of five clauses. The first paragraph obliges the signatories of the agreement to form organizational mechanisms directed at the holding of democratic elections, as well as to realize common aims through protest actions.

In the document the parties pledge not to spread propaganda against each other and to protect each other from repressions and unfair attacks. The agreement's third paragraph states that the parties will organize the common monitoring of the presidential ballot and the evaluation of its results. The document provides for the establishment of the Opposition Coordination Center's united monitoring commission.

Jelaloglu emphasized that the most essential part of the agreement is that the parties pledge not to strike separatist political bargains with the government. In addition, there are certain articles regarding the post-election period. The parties which remain in opposition after the ballot are to take a constructive stance toward a new government and cooperate with it for the sake of preserving political stability and developing democracy in the country.

Despite agreeing on many issues, the members of the Opposition Coordination Center have yet to agree on the opposition's common presidential candidate.

(Shahnaz Beilergizi)

According to the independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho," Ali Hasanov, head of the social-political department within the Presidential Administration, denied speculation about Russian President Vladimir Putin's expected visit to Azerbaijan. He added that were there such information, the presidential administration would have revealed it. The paper notes that earlier the local media had widely written that Putin was to come to Baku next week. The Russian embassy in Baku stated that it is unaware of any planned visit by the Russian president. The press service of the Russian president also told Turan news agency that such a visit to Baku has yet to be planned. But a source within the Presidential Administration that spoke on condition of anonymity did not rule out a brief visit, during which Putin might present President Aliyev with a Russian state award.

Political scientist Rasim Musabekov said in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" that there are two reasons for Putin's visit. The first motive is linked with the United States' intention to transfer a certain part of its armed forces in Europe to the South Caucasus. This contradicts Russia's national interests, of course. Therefore, Putin is probably coming to Baku to get more specific information about this issue and attempt to prevent it. Musabekov suggested that the Russian president wants to learn more about President Aliev's physical and political situation and to find out the truth from Aliyev himself. But the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" predicts that Putin will hold discussions with President Aliyev over the formation of a future government in Azerbaijan.

Ali Rza, in an article entitled "The Alievs are facing a difficult dilemma" in the newspaper "Azadlig," points out that the government has gotten into difficulties because of the upcoming presidential elections. President Aliev, the government's chief candidate, is tired and unable to participate normally in the elections. His appearances on television once or twice a week show his pale face and tired bearing. At the same time Aliyev still tries to create the image of his son as capable. Rza writes that the government cannot finish the election marathon with this candidate. Some time later all the presidential candidates will begin active propaganda campaigns. Young and energetic candidates from the opposition will galvanize the people by visiting one district after another, mobilizing them in order to ensure an opposition victory. But Aliyev will be not able to neutralize these initiatives even by appearing on television. The author thinks that at a time when the president has lost his health and become too tired to bear the burden of an election campaign, the current ruling team could theoretically endorse the president's son, Ilham Aliev. But in practice the government's participation in the elections under Ilham Aliev's leadership seems to be impossible. First of all, President Aliyev himself does not see his son in this role. Second, most influential figures within the ruling team do not consider themselves so weak as to accept Ilham Aliev's leadership.

In an interview with the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet," opposition National Independence Party (AMIP) chairman Etibar Memmedov recalled that all the other opposition parties refused to participate in the previous 1998 presidential elections. But afterward it became clear that such an approach was not such a good idea as it allowed the government to do everything that it wanted. By participating in the elections, AMIP proved the weakness of the president as a competitor, and demonstrated that he can be defeated. Memmedov noted that non-participation in the upcoming ballot would be wrong. Therefore, in general, the opposition agreed to enter the elections.

Araz Alizade, head of the Social Democratic Party, said in an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" that the question of a common opposition candidate will be solved during the election campaign. According to Alizade, the Azerbaijani Forces Union (AQB) does not intend to endorse any candidate except former President Ayaz Mutallibov.

Aikhan Ibrahimli in the article "Azerbaijan is a poor country" in the independent newspaper "Ayna" points out that it is an unfortunate fact that Azerbaijan, which is rich in natural resources and historical and cultural traditions, is a poor country in terms of living standards. Azerbaijan is the wealthiest country in the South Caucasus and exports oil. However, at the same time Azerbaijan remains a poor country. It is fair to point out that there are wealthy people in the country as well. According to optimistic calculations, they, and members of their families, constitute 5 percent of the population, in other words 400,000 people.Their average monthly income is above $1,000 per family member.The majority of the wealthy are concentrated in Baku. The number of people living in poverty is ten times larger. The income of half of them is less than $25 a month per family member. Ibrahimli writes that one of Azerbaijan's greatest problems is the gradual stratification of society. Some economists and sociologists see the reason for poverty as being caused by the poor themselves as they think only about day-to-day survival. Ibrahimli sees the way out of this situation in building a civic society and a democratic state, as well as a market economy based on sound competition.

Rovshen Murvetoglu in the article "It is nine months since the construction of the Silk Road was interrupted" in the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" writes that the restoration of the Great Silk Road is one of the projects that affects many countries' national interests. All countries situated along this road draw special attention to this project since it allows them to haul their cargoes within the continent by the cheapest and shortest route. Although some three years have passed since the beginning of the project implementation, the construction works are proceeding too slowly. Murvetoglu points out that the Azerbaijani section of the Great Silk Road is 503 kilometers. And since the funds allocated by the government are insufficient for the rebuilding of this section, it has been decided to attract foreign investors to this process as well.

A summit of GUUAM member-states has begun in Yalta, Ukraine. Vugar Masimoglu in the article "GUUAM is turning into the alternative to the European Union" in the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" points out that one of the factors that allows the GUUAM to be considered as an alternative to the European Union is the analogies in the formation process of both institutions. The foundation of the organization as an economic union at first with the possibility of the creation of a political and military union in the future shows that both organizations are developing on the same lines. Masimoglu writes that in Washington's concept, the GUUAM is an additional means with which to delay or prevent the process of integration in Europe. But for the time being the United States wants to eliminate the threat of a "united Europe� by accelerating schisms within the European Union.

The Amal Intelligentsia Movement has recently appealed to prominent Azerbaijani intellectuals to declare whom they would support in the upcoming presidential elections.

People's Poet Fikret Goja, one of these intellectuals, said in an interview with the pro-governmental newspaper "525" that the election issue or rather the question of whom to support in the elections is personal. "Every person votes for whoever he wants and no one must know this besides himself. If the Amal members consider us to be intellectuals, then why do they give us instructions? Why do they demand that we make our opinion clear? �Nevertheless I have never hidden my opinion. I have written ten times and will do it once again that I am on Heydar Aliev's side."

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)