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Caucasus Report: July 11, 2003

11 July 2003, Volume 6, Number 25

COULD GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER UNITE THE OPPOSITION? Shortly after her return in mid-June from a visit to Washington, Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze announced that she plans to found her own political movement. That announcement was greeted with enthusiastic approval by both the head of the parliament faction of the former ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK), and the opposition United Democrats. One of the Democrats' leaders, Mikhail Machavariani, explained that "Burdjanadze is the right person to unite the opposition." Former Minister of State Niko Lekishvili, who now heads the Taxpayers Union, similarly praised Burdjanadze as "a very serious and weighty political figure."

Burdjanadze, who will celebrate her 39th birthday next week, is a trained lawyer who was elected to parliament in 1995 and again, on the SMK ticket, in 1999. She was elected parliament speaker in November 2001 following the resignation of Zurab Zhvania, and has since acted as mediator between an embattled President Eduard Shevardnadze and the increasingly aggressive parliamentary opposition, with whom she clearly sympathizes. Opinion polls consistently rank her among the country's five most-popular politicians, and as a possible presidential candidate in 2005, when Shevardnadze's second and final term expires.

As recently as mid-June, ITAR-TASS quoted Burdjanadze as saying that she will not run for president in 2005. But in an interview published in "Rezonansi" on 7 July, she hinted that she might after all do so, and some commentators have construed her decision to form her own party as the first step towards creating an independent power base. Burdjanadze also told journalists on 24 June that her plans to found her own party are not linked to the 2 November parliamentary elections. She said she will contest that ballot as an independent candidate if the opposition fails to form a grand alliance.

The statements of approval that greeted her announcement that she will form her own party raise the question whether that party could act as the nucleus of a grand opposition alliance. In other words, it might just prove possible that the male leaders of other opposition parties, while incapable of ceding the leadership post to each other, might out of the gallantry on which Georgian men pride themselves agree to align around a party headed by a woman.

If they did, Burdjanadze might find her closest rival in the parliamentary election another woman, if National Democratic Party leader Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia gravitates to the head of the pro-Shevardnadze election bloc For a New Georgia. Parliament deputy speaker and For a New Georgia co-Chairman Vakhtang Rcheulishvili hinted on 10 July that he may quit the bloc to protest the latest round of budget cuts, and Shevardnadze is rumored to be considering firing the bloc's second co-chairman, Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze, because of the government's failure to meet budget targets. (Liz Fuller)

AZERBAIJAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION UPDATE. As of 11 July, Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission has registered 15 candidates for the presidential election scheduled for 15 October. They are:

* Incumbent President Heidar Aliev, nominated by the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party (YAP). Registered on 27 June.

* Ali Kerimli, chairman of, and nominated by, the reformist wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP). Registered on 27 June.

* Isa Gambar, chairman of, and nominated by, the Musavat party. Registered on 27 June.

* Ilyas Ismailov, chairman of, and nominated by, the Adalet party. Registered on 27 June.

* Gudrat Gasankuliev, chairman of, and nominated by, a splinter group that broke away from the progressive wing of the AHCP (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 25 April and 26 August 2002 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 16, and 23 January 2003). Registered on 27 June.

* Sabir Rustamkhanli, chairman of, and nominated by, the Civic Solidarity Party. Registered on 30 June.

* Yunus Aliev, chairman of, and nominated by, the National Unity Party. Registered on 30 June.

* Etibar Mamedov, chairman of, and nominated by, the Azerbaijan National Independence Party. Registered on 2 July

* Lala Shovket Gadjieva, independent candidate nominated by the National Unity voters group. Registered on 2 July.

* Ilham Aliev, son of the incumbent president and YAP first deputy chairman, nominated by a group of voters. Registered on 4 July.

* Ikhtiyar Shirin, chairman of the National Congress Party. Registered on 4 July.

* Chingiz Sadykhov, chairman of the Taraggi (Progress) party, nominated by the United Azerbaijan Party. Registered on 6 July.

* Hafiz Hadjiev, chairman of, and nominated by, the Modern Musavat Party. Registered on 9 July.

* Elshad Musaev, nominated by the Great Azerbaijan voters group. Registered on 9 July after having been refused registration one week earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2003).

* Abutalib Samedov, chairman of, and nominated by, the Alliance for Azerbaijan. Registered on 9 July.

Six applications for registration have been rejected. They are:

* Zakir Tagiev, independent candidate. Refused registration on 2 July on the grounds that he concealed a criminal conviction for hooliganism.

* Nemat Panakhli, independent candidate. Refused registration on 2 July for not submitting together with his registration application a certificate that he performed his military service.

* Former Interior Minister Iskender Hamidov. Refused registration on 2 July, one day after being sentenced in a repeat trial to 11 years' imprisonment on charges of embezzlement, abuse of his official position, and causing grievous bodily harm (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2003).

* Former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev, currently living in the U.S. Refused registration on 2 July on the grounds that his application papers were not notarized in Azerbaijan, and that he holds a U.S. "Green Card" permanent resident visa.

* Rufat Agaev, former Baku mayor, who for the past 10 years has lived in Moscow. Refused registration on 7 July on the grounds that his application papers were not correctly filled out.

* Hadji Abdul, self-nominated. Refused registration on 9 July on the grounds that his application papers were not correctly filled out.

The following applications have not yet been processed:

* Sabir Tanriverdiev, nominated by the National Statehood Party.

* Kamran Rustamov, professor of architecture, self-nominated.

* Tahir Kerimli, chairman of and nominated by the Vahdat party.

* Musa Tukanov, United Communist Party chairman, nominated by a group of voters.

* Former presidential adviser Eldar Namazov, self-nominated.

* Parliament deputy Shadman Huseynov, nominated by the Vatan group of voters on 9 July.

The following are expected to apply for registration, but have not yet done so:

* Former President Ayaz Mutalibov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2003).

* Social Democratic Party co-Chairman Araz Alizade. (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "There could be five candidates for president nominated from one family, I don't see anything wrong with that." -- Ilham Aliev, asked whether it is legal for both him and his father to contest the 15 October Azerbaijani presidential election (quoted by Turan on 8 July).

"In military terms, the Chechen guerrillas are not a problem for Moscow. The problem you Russians have in Chechnya is that a significant part of the population there has been subjected to powerful ideological processing. And you can't get anywhere with those people by using force. The Chechnya problem will remain until the Russian leadership and the people of Chechnya isolate the Wahhabis and destroy the basis for their multiplication. Suicide bombers that are ready to blow themselves up for an idea cannot be overcome with arms -- the longstanding experience of Israel is clear evidence [of this]. You have to destroy the source of the infection, which is the Saudi influence, Saudi money, and the entire Wahhabi structure." -- U.S. counterterrorism expert Alex Alexiev, interviewed in "Izvestiya" on 11 July.

"You can hold a referendum in Chechnya, announce an amnesty, and elect the president; but if most people in Chechnya do not acknowledge this president, the conflict will go on. There are people in Chechnya who dislike Wahhabis, but at the same time they do not support Russia's policy in Chechnya. It is those people you should establish contracts with, even though they are not your friends." -- Alexiev, ibid.