27 December 2002
NEWS BRIEFSOpposition Debates Election Code at Its Own Roundtable
Although the opposition boycotted the recent roundtable talks on the draft unified election code, they did discuss the code's pros and cons at the Free Election Forum on 26 December, which they organized themselves. Although the organizers had invited members of the presidential administration, the parliament and ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP), there was no one at the meeting from these institutions. Those present included members of the 10 opposition parties united under the Opposition Coordinating Center (MKM), local nongovernmental organizations and international observers, primarily from international democracy-building organizations and the U.S. Embassy.
Arif Hajiev, deputy chairman of the Musavat Party, and Fuad Agaev, of the National Independence Party (AMIP), were first to speak. Both speakers emphasized that the central and regional election commissions must be made up equally from government and opposition appointees. The also called for elimination the restrictions on candidate registration.
Azai Guliev, president of the National Forum of Nongovernmental Organizations, said that it was wrong to form election commissions with only representatives from the governmental and opposition parties. Nongovernmental organizations must also be involved in this process. Ali Kerimov, chairman of the �reformist wing� of the Popular Front Party (AXCP), focused on the reconciliation commission. He pointed out that the opposition could begin a dialogue with the government should such a commission be created.
A group of NGO representatives also spoke about this issue. One of them, Gulali Hesenova suggested that nongovernmental organizations should also be represented in the reconciliation commission. But Chingiz Ganizade, the head of the Committee for Democracy and Human Rights, said that nongovernmental organizations must not generally take part in commissions, since such participation could cast a shadow on their neutrality. Moreover, Ganizade claimed that the proposal to attract NGOs to commissions had been prepared "in the government�s kitchen." Ganizade said that most NGOs in Azerbaijan had been created as a way to receive foreign grants, and when there is an "offer" from the government, these organizations do not refuse. He said that NGOs must undertake only a monitoring mission.
Gulamhusein Aliev, a parliament member and deputy chairman of the "reformist wing" of the AXCP, also talked about how such a reconciliation commission should be formed and what commitments it should undertake. He supported the idea of equal participation between the government and opposition in the commission. Aliyev recalled that when Azerbaijan joined the Council of Europe, it also undertook an obligation to adopt democratic election laws. Therefore, demands regarding the draft election law must not be considered as simply the opposition's but as the Azerbaijani government's commitment before the Council of Europe.
Members of the Central Election Commission (CEC) from the opposition also spoke at the meeting and touched on some troubling points. Anvar Aliyev from the Civil Solidarity Party noted that one of the crucial issues is the transparency of the voting process as the current laws do not fully ensure fair and objective voting in Azerbaijan.
Vidadi Mahmudov, a Musavat representative on the CEC, touched on CEC members' rights. He noted that the current draft code puts members under the full control of executive bodies. Another disturbing point, Mahmudov said, is that the draft law bans people who have been convicted of any crime from running in an election. It is designed to create difficulties for the opposition, because several oppositionists have been imprisoned under trumped-up charges.
Chingiz Sadigov, chairman of the Tereggi (Progress) Party, claimed that as long as Heydar Aliyev is at the helm, it will not be possible to hold democratic elections in Azerbaijan. Therefore, the opposition should work for resignation of the president rather than rack its brains over such issues.
Government Drags Feet on IMF Requirements
The Azerbaijani government has hit an impasse with the International Monetary Fund, which has demanded that the government adopt a law on the oil fund and move control of the fund under public supervision. As a result, the IMF has announced that it is withholding the next tranche of a $100 million credit. The IMF is also opposed to the government's stated intention of applying a preferential tax policy on companies working in different regions of the country in order to promote. The fund thinks there is no need for it. But the government is standing fast and insisting that even if the country does not receive credits, it will not affect the country�s economy. However, the IMF has also emphasized that the IMF credits have been instrumental in attracting foreign investment in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline. Some observers consider that statement a warning to the Azerbaijani government.
Economist Nazim Imanov opposes approaching the issue through the prism of "who is right, who is wrong," adding that each country has the right to introduce various tax rates in order to increase business and thus stimulate economic growth. Therefore the IMF reaction to Azerbaijan is inappropriate. On the other hand, Imanov calls the IMF requirement to establish public control of the oil fund "progressive." Economist Gubad Ibadoglu told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that between 1998-2000, Azerbaijan fulfilled all IMF requirements. He noted that difficulties were also observed during that period, but the Azerbaijani government finally eliminated them. However, he added that at present the government should not try to directly confront the fund; rather it should search for a normal formula of cooperation.
Aliyev Calls for talks with Lukoil Over Its Pullout From ACG
On 20 December the Russian oil giant Lukoil announced that it has sold its 10 percent share in the Azeri-Chiraq-Guneshli oil field, one of the most potentially lucrative fields of Azerbaijan, to the Japanese company Inpex. But the Azerbaijani president's reaction to this purchase and sale contract was unexpected even for the experts.
At his 23 December meeting with the Japanese ambassador in Baku, President Heidar Aliyev said that "we have nothing against the deal, but when Lukoil signed the contract, it undertook some obligations. There are certain problems with Lukoil that should be solved." But if Lukoil wants leave Azerbaijan and sell its share, then [Lukoil] must come here. We must consider what conditions Lukoil must meet." But the president did not say what those additional conditions are. Local oil specialists are also unaware of what additional conditions the president talked about.
Senan Alizade, a former president of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR), told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that if Lukoil sells its share, then all engagements under the contract are also passed on to the Japanese company that buys the share.
Another former SOCAR president, Sabit Bagirov, links the withdrawal of Lukoil from the contract with a commercial issue. He notes that under the contract on two big oil fields, by 2009 foreign oil companies are to invest Azerbaijan some $16 billion. Lukoil, which holds a 10 percent share in these projects, is obliged to invest $1.5 billion. Lukoil faces difficulties raising this kind of investment. On the other hand, the price offered by Inpex is profitable for Lukoil. Bagirov suggests that if there will be a beneficial offer in the future, Lukoil would also sell its stake in other oil projects in Azerbaijan.
Both ex-SOCAR heads deny the allegations in the Russian media that some criminal circles in Russia are pressuring Lukoil to leave projects in Azerbaijan. Alizade said that it is hard to believe in any criminal pressure on such a company as Lukoil. Terrorist actions against the families of individual officials at Lukoil cannot affect the common policy of the company.
Although Lukoil sold its share in the Azeri-Chiraq-Guneshli oil field, it continues its participation in other projects. Lukoil is in fact expanding its business in Azerbaijan. In the middle of 2002 it even opened the Nikoil bank in the country. Moreover, Lukoil possesses an extensive network of filling station in Baku.
PRESS REVIEWUnder the headline "The large claim of small parties," the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" notes that things within the opposition are not as smooth as previously thought. A new split and polarization has been observed.
The governmental newspaper "Khalg" writes that on 26 December Russian President Vladimir Putin presented Azerbaijani singer Muslim Magamaev, the title of national artist of the USSR, the highest award of the Russian Federation--the "award of honor."
The independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" cites Abulfaz Garaev, the minister of youth, sports and tourism, as saying that 2002 was a successful one for Azerbaijani sport. In 2002 Azerbaijani sportsmen, who participated in more than 200 international tournaments, won 175 gold, silver and bronze medals.
Deyanet Bairamov in the article "The Azerbaijani idea consolidates us" in the governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan" points out that uniting the up to 50 million Azerbaijanis living around the world within a common camp, and studying their ethnic and cultural needs are of great importance for Azerbaijan. Bairamov notes that at present the propaganda of the national Azerbaijani idea must be spread throughout culture and literature at the state level. In other words, in order to strengthen the position of the Azerbaijani language, national culture and traditions in the life of Azerbaijanis, different meetings must be held such as conferences and symposiums. In addition cultural and literary propaganda materials should be printed.
Eivaz Borchali, chairman of the Borchali Society, in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" said that the renaming of Azerbaijani towns and villages in Georgia began long ago. But after Eduard Shevarnadze came to power, this process slowed. For example, the name of Azerbaijani-populated Borchali region has been changed into "Kveto-Kartli," which in translation from Georgian means "lower Georgia." Borchali called the renaming historical names of settlements a "dangerous policy," adding that this process in Georgia is implemented thanks to a decision of the parliament. The people sometimes voice their protest against such a policy, but this kind of work must be accelerated.
Ramiz Abbasbeili in an article entitled "Pensions will not be increased next year" in the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" writes that this year officials have stated that salaries and pensions would be increased. But since the budget receipts were lower than expected, the government could not realize its plans. In fact, it was expected that the government's promises would not be justified, because the statistical data for the first three months of the second quarter of 2002 proved that the government would not be able to realize pledges it made. Abbasbeili notes that at present the government has opened wide discussions on increasing teachers' and doctors' salaries in the first quarter of 2003. The author also emphasizes the need to reconsider the procedure of pension granting in Azerbaijan. The government is not yet in a position to introduce computerized payment of pensions.
Shadman Huseinov, a former activist of the National Independence Party, in an interview with the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" talked about discussions surrounding the draft law on elections. Huseinov said that the current scandals surrounding the draft law must not be considered "abnormal." At the same time he pointed out that the election law must be "nationwide." "Therefore we must approach the issue from the people's standpoint," he said. Huseinov noted that the opposition was not in a position to boycott the presidential elections in autumn of 2003. In the past the boycott tactics were, in general, ineffective. At the same time, the boycott has turned into a kind of game for the opposition. Playing this game, the opposition leaders are also attempting to deceive each other, Huseinov concluded.
An author writing only as Hijran in the article "Mass deportations from Russia are not expected" in the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" writes that since 1 January 2003 unregistered foreign citizens who have no migration cards will be expelled from Russia. Such measures will be taken under the new law on legal status of foreigners that came into affect on 1 November. The author recalls that at present up to two million Azerbaijanis live and work in Russia. Most of them are labor migrants and a group of them are engaged in labor activity there illegally. It is expected that these people will be face serious problems. But a mass deportation of Azerbaijanis from Russia is unreal. First of all because the Russian government has given the illegal labor migrants a certain time to put their documents to rights. In other words, there is enough time to register with Russian law-enforcement bodies and get a migration card.
(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)