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Caucasus Report: November 3, 2000

3 November 2000, Volume 3, Number 43

MUSAVAT'S POPULARITY ON THE RISE... A poll conducted between 21-29 October by the ADAM Center for Social Research among some 500 residents of Baku suggests that, at least in the capital, the opposition Musavat party would win more votes than any other in free and fair parliamentary elections. Twenty-four percent of respondents said they hope for a Musavat victory in the 5 November parliamentary elections, while only 20 percent hoped that the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan party will win.

In a separate poll of 817 people who said they intend to go to the polls on 5 November, almost half -- 47 percent -- said they will vote for opposition candidates, while less than one quarter -- 22 percent, said they will vote for Yeni Azerbaycan's candidates. Musavat would garner 26.1 percent of those respondents' votes, Etibar Mamedov's Azerbaijan National Independence Party 7.5 percent, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, which is headed by exiled former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev, 6 percent, and the Liberal Party of Azerbaijan, whose chairwoman is Lala Shovket, 3.2 percent. Twenty-one percent of those respondents said they will vote for Yeni Azerbaycan. The findings of the ADAM survey are corroborated by a second poll conducted by the Meridian center, which estimated support for Musavat at 29.8 percent.

Even if those findings cannot be extrapolated to the country as a whole, the discrepancy between the level of support expressed for the Musavat Party and that for Yeni Azerbaycan gives grounds for serious thought. Those findings suggest that the authorities' campaign to tarnish Musavat's reputation by implicating Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the party's newspaper "Yeni Musavat," in an airplane hijack and planning a coup attempt has not had the desired effect (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 36, 7 September 2000) has misfired. Whether the insults and insinuations leveled at opposition leaders in his electioneering speeches by President Heidar Aliev's son Ilham, who is a deputy chairman of Yeni Azebaycan, may have proven equally counter-productive is a matter for conjecture.

The findings of the survey also suggest that since the death in August of ex-president and Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman Abulfaz Elchibey, Musavat's leader Isa Gambar has inherited the mantle of the most respected opposition leader. They also suggest that public infighting between rival factions within Yeni Azerbaycan may have further undercut support for a party which is widely perceived as corrupt and engaged in primarily defending the political influence and economic interests of its members.

Those polled say that they will be surprised, however, if their preferences are clearly reflected in the outcome of the ballot: 59 percent of the respondents in the ADAM poll said they do not believe the parliamentary election will be free and fair, although 43 percent added that they believe it would be possible to ensure that the poll was free and fair if the country's leadership wished to do so. Specifically, in the light of President Aliev's well-known hatred for Gambar, who heads the list of Musavat candidates contesting the party lists seats, it is doubtful whether official returns will give Musavat the minimum 8 percent of the vote needed to win parliamentary representation under the proportional system. (Liz Fuller)

...WHILE AZERBAIJAN POPULAR FRONT LOSES SUPPORT. A further unexpected and thought-provoking finding of the ADAM poll was the erosion of support for the now divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP): 4.3 percent of respondents said they intend to vote for the "reformist" wing of that party which is headed by Ali Kerimov, and 2.3 percent for the "conservative" wing, of which Mirmahmud Fattaev was elected chairman at a congress in Baku on 28-29 October attended by 339 delegates from 72 of the party's regional organizations. Fattaev said after that congress that the conservatives will apply for registration with the Ministry of Justice as a separate entity.

It is not clear to what extent voters' alienation from the AHCP is to be attributed to the death of its charismatic chairman as opposed to the split in the party's ranks. That split of the AHCP into two entities had a negative impact on its participation in the election campaign. First, the split stymied plans made in July by the (then still united) AHCP to align with Musavat and run a joint list of candidates to contest the 25 seats in the new 125-seat legislature that are to be allocated under the proportional system. After the split, the Central Electoral Commission registered only the list submitted by the Ali Kerimov's reformists, but not that of the conservative wing.

In addition, many "conservative" AHCP candidates, including Fattaev, were initially refused registration to run in single-mandate constituencies. After Fattaev appealed that refusal, the Court of Appeal recommended to the Central Electoral Commission that he be registered, according to "Yeni Musavat" on 26 October. The two wings have between them registered a total of 40 candidates to run in the 99 single-mandate constituencies. (No voting is taking place in Stepanakert.) No AHCP candidates featured on the list of deputies to be "elected" that was made public last week by Social Justice Party chairman Matlab Mutallimli (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2000).

Nor has Musavat's stated backing for the conservative wing of the AHCP and the election "alliance" subsequently concluded between those two organizations helped the AHCP conservatives' popularity. Whether or not that alliance is extended after the elections will in all likelihood depend on the number of seats each party garners in the new legislature. (Liz Fuller)

GEORGIAN MAJORITY PARLIAMENT FACTION RENEWS CRITICISM OF INTERIOR MINISTER. On 30 October the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK) faction decided to summon Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze to appear before the faction's council the following day to explain his claims that some of the faction's members are "waging war" on him. That decision was the latest move in a series of accusations and counter-accusations that originated between Targamadze and the former head of the SMK faction Mikhail Saakashvili, who was named Justice Minister last month. In late September, Saakashvili had accused Targamadze of conducting illicit surveillance of SMK parliament deputies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 September 2000).

Meeting with SMK faction members on 31 October, Targamadze denied having accused the faction as a whole, saying he was constrained "to protect [myself] from the torrent of accusations... made by Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili, parliamentary Human Rights Committee chairwoman Elena Tevdoradze and Finance Minister Zurab Nogaideli." He reminded his interlocutors that he is a member of President Eduard Shevardnadze's leadership and, as such, can claim a share of the credit for "stabilizing" the domestic political situation.

That argument apparently failed to convince, however. Parliament deputy Koba Davitashvili told journalists on 1 November that he believes "there is every ground" for beginning impeachment proceedings against Targamadze. He said he plans to ask parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania to task the interim commission for investigation official corruption with determining whether Targamadze is guilty of abuse of his official position. (Opposition National Democratic Party of Georgia chairwoman Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia has for years accused Targamadze of involvement in smuggling cigarettes and other commodities.)

Zhvania for his part has every incentive to comply with Davitashvili's request, in that Targamadze is considered as a possible successor to President Eduard Shevardnadze -- the post for which Zhvania himself is clearly being groomed. Shevardnadze has already once been confronted with the untimely death of a younger colleague whom he may have considered the most qualified candidate to succeed him, when former Georgian Komosmol First Secretary Zhiuli Shartava was summarily executed in September 1993 just before the fall of Sukhumi. In addition, Shevardnadze, who served himself as Georgian interior minister from 1965-1972, knows better than most that a loyal interior minister is protection against a possible palace coup. (Liz Fuller)

KADYROV HITS BACK AT RUSSIAN MEDIA. Interim Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov last week responded to the spate of Russian press speculation that he is about to be replaced in that post (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 41, 20 October 2000). A statement issued by Kadyrov's press service and summarized by Interfax claimed that such speculation is being orchestrated in order to discredit Kadyrov in the eyes of his subordinates and Chechen society as a whole. It suggested that unnamed forces hoping to perpetuate indefinitely the current situation of "not war and not peace" feel threatened by the "resolute measures" Kadyrov is taking to bring the "anti-terror" operation to an end and restore peace to Chechnya.

The statement notes that Kadyrov has been criticized ever since being appointed to his present post by Russian President Vladimir Putin in early June for his imputed inability to resolve the conflict, consolidate Chechen society and establish Moscow's control throughout Chechnya. That criticism of Kadyrov, the statement says, is also directed against Putin.

The statement then warned against "endless experimentation in conditions of a ruined republic," whose inhabitants "want to feel the stability of power and to be assured that tomorrow will not se a new administration reshuffle." That warning is a clear reference to the announcement by Viktor Kazantsev, Putin's representative to the South Russia federal district, that the interim administration will be fundamentally reorganized to give one man control over all key functions.

Kadyrov himself complained to Interfax several days later that he does not have the authority to resolve the problems he is confronted with -- suggesting that he would greet Kazantsev's proposed move to centralize authority in Chechnya provided he himself is the beneficiary of that move. He also claimed that he enjoys Putin's complete trust and support.

Statements made on 2 November by two Russian military officials suggest that the Russian military, too, opposes Kadyrov's replacement. Lieutenant-General Gennadii Troshev, whom "Nezavisimaya gazeta" had identified as Kadyrov's successor, again denied that he is in line for that post. He added that rumors of Kadyrov's dismissal are "a load of rubbish." Troshev said Kadyrov will remain head of the interim administration "with the complete support of the [Russian armed] forces," according to Interfax.

Kazantsev's first deputy, Lieutenant-General Vladimir Bokovikov, similarly said that rumors of Kadyrov's replacement are "unfounded" and also dangerous, as they undercut his authority. Referring to Kazantsev's plans to restructure the interim administration, Bokovikov said "the center of authority must be created inside the republic, not outside." Echoing Kadyrov, he added that the interim authorities "must be given sufficient powers to control the law enforcement agencies and the military," and to "put a halt to outrages and lawlessness at checkpoints, terminate the practice of arresting people without adequate reason, and intensify control over the legality of what the law enforcement agencies are doing."

It is, however, the Russian Defense and Interior Ministry forces in Chechnya who are primarily responsible for such abuses against Chechens. Even if Kadyrov's powers are expanded, it is highly unlikely he will have any authority over those forces. What the Russian military has proposed instead is "improved interaction" between the military and the temporary administration, according to Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, who met in Khankala on 2 November with both Kadyrov and Grozny mayor Beslan Gantemirov. Sergeev termed unspecified proposals made by both men "very constructive and aimed at assuming great responsibility for the improvement of the situation in the republic, and Grozny in particular."

Whether the statements of support for Kadyrov by Troshev and Sergeev are proof that it is the military, rather than the presidential representative, that exerts the greater influence on Moscow's plans for Chechnya, or whether Kazantsev's original announcement of a reorganization of the interim administration was misunderstood, however, remains unclear. (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "We have a strong president, a competent prime minister, a professional government and a constructive parliament. Equilibrium has been reached between all the branches of power, and that allows us to concentrate on economic reform. We need investments and a strong army, and for that we need stability. Destabilization is in the interests of those forces hostile to Armenia which the opposition claims to reject." -- Armenian cabinet administration head Andranik Manukian (quoted by "Kommersant-Daily" on 27 October).

"It is very difficult to work in the room where [murdered Armenian Premier] Vazgen Sargsian used to work." -- Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, speaking on the eve of the anniversary of the 27 October parliament shootings of which Vazgen Sargsian was one of the eight victims (quoted by Noyan Tapan on 26 October).