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Caucasus Report: November 9, 2000

9 November 2000, Volume 3, Number 44

'A Crash Course In Manipulation.' OSCE's Election Observation Mission charged with monitoring the 5 November Azerbaijani parliamentary election registered widespread violations in the course of the election campaign, voting and vote count. Those violations led the OSCE to characterize the poll in its preliminary assessment, released on 6 November, as having failed to meet international standards for democratic elections.

At the same time, however, the OSCE acknowledged improvements over the 1995 parliamentary and 1998 presidential elections, specifically in terms of increased political pluralism. It noted improvements to the legislative framework, adding however that those laws were not systematically implemented. But the assessment characterized as a major flaw in the process the rejection of approximately half of those candidates who sought to contest single-mandate constituencies. And it pointed to "numerous instances of severe irregularities," including ballot-stuffing, pre-marked ballots, refusal to admit international observers to polling stations, intimidation of opposition candidates or observers, and "a completely marred counting process."

In an apparently off-the-cuff comment, Gerard Stoudmann, director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, characterized the monitoring as "a crash course in various types of manipulation," according to the "Financial Times" on 7 November. Turan quoted a Council of Europe official as commenting that "never before have we seen so many falsified ballots." The U.S. State Department the next day concurred with the OSCE assessment and called on the Azerbaijani authorities to investigate reported violations and to correct the tabulated results, which opposition Azerbaijani politicians had rejected as "totally falsified" and "a total desecration."

As of late 6 November, when the OSCE preliminary assessment was released, only two parties, the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP) and the "reformist" wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP), had surmounted the 6 percent barrier for parliamentary representation under the proportional system. At that time, with ballot papers from 70 percent of all polling stations processed, YAP had 70.83 percent, the AHCP 6.4 percent, the opposition Musavat Party 4.71 percent, the Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP) 3.88 percent, the Communist Party 3.05 percent, the Civic Solidarity Party 2.69 percent, the Liberal Party 1.25 percent and the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan 1.2 percent. In addition, YAP had 48 seats in single-mandate constituencies and opposition parties six. The names of at least 25 of the Yeni Azerbaycan deputies elected figured on the list published in late October by Social Justice Party chairman Matlab Mutallimli. The CEC said on 7 November that the final results will be available only on 15 November.

The handful of opposition candidates known to have been elected includes the heads of both wings of the divided AHCP, Ali Kerimov and Mirmahmud Fattaev, a development that seems certain to undercut opposition unity in the legislature. The chairmen of AMIP and Musavat, Etibar Mamedov and Isa Gambar, who headed their respective party lists under the proportional system, both appear to have failed in their election bids.

The opposition Musavat Party issued a statement in Baku on 6 November claiming that the outcome of the ballot was totally falsified, and saying that the party does not recognize the legitimacy of the new parliament. The statement said that exit polls conducted by Turan and the ADAM sociological center established that 26 percent of those who participated cast their ballots for Musavat and 23 percent for YAP. It said voter turnout, which was officially estimated at around 70 percent, did not exceed 25-35 percent. Musavat Party chairman Gambar said he believes his party garnered 50 percent of the vote. On 7 November, Liberal Party chairman Lala Shovket told journalists that her party, together with Musavat, AMIP, the AHCP, the Democratic Party and the Civic Solidarity Party all polled more than the 6 percent minimum required to win representation under the proportional system.

To date almost 20 parties, including Musavat, AMIP, the reformist wing of the AHCP, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan and the Liberal Party of Azerbaijan have declared that they do not recognize the poll outcome as either valid or legal. AMIP, the Democratic Party and the Liberal Party have reportedly discussed the possibility of convening an "alternative" parliament that will lobby for new parliamentary and presidential elections.

The Azerbaijani authorities, however, have rejected this international criticism. On 8 November, Central Electoral Commission chairman Mazahir Panahov told journalists that while he does not doubt the OSCE's reports that there have been "some violations," he does not believe that those violations were ubiquitous, nor does he see any reason to invalidate the poll outcome nation-wide. YAP executive secretary Ali Ahmedov for his part told journalists on 8 November that his party "regards the parliamentary elections as free, fair and democratic." (Liz Fuller)

Who, Or What, Is Behind The Vartanian Phenomenon? On 30 October, Armenian business magnate and chairman of the 21st Century Association Arkadii Vartanian was arrested at his home in Yerevan hours after convening a demonstration by 10,000 people, some of whom then staged an unsanctioned march to the presidential palace to demand the resignation of President Robert Kocharian. Vartanian, who has Russian citizenship, was remanded in custody for 10 days of administrative arrest. On 7 November, he was charged with calling for the violent overthrow of the Armenian leadership, a crime that carries a penalty of up to 10 years' imprisonment.

Vartanian's Yerevan rally was the culmination of a series of such meetings throughout Armenia since late summer to demand the resignation of the Armenian leadership, which Vartanian has accused of being incapable of resolving the social and economic problems the country faces and thereby improving living standards. Other left-wing political figures, including Union of Socialist Forces leader Ashot Manucharian and National Unity Party chairman Artashes Geghamian, have similarly sought to mobilize the "protest" vote to exert pressure on the present leadership, but have proved less successful in doing so than has Vartanian. Some observers have suggested that the latter has paid participants in his demonstrations; certainly many of those who gathered in Yerevan on 30 October were bussed into the capital from the provinces.

On several occasions prior to the 30 October Yerevan demonstration, Vartanian publicly declared his intention of mobilizing up to 70,000 people on that day and pressuring the present Armenian leadership, whom he characterized as "an elite of morons who have led the country to economic and moral collapse," to resign. If that attempt failed, he said, he would try to induce parliament to begin impeachment proceedings against President Robert Kocharian. Vartanian made no secret of the fact that he considers he could govern the country, and resolve social and economic problems, more efficiently than the present leadership. But he also made clear that "we are not resorting to revolution and terror."

The Armenian authorities, however, clearly preferred not to take chances. On 29 October, the day before the rally, Armenian National Television Director Tigran Naghdalian, a close associate of President Robert Kocharian, had made derogatory comments about Vartanian in a broadcast that was rerun the following morning, according to Noyan Tapan commentator David Petrosian. When the rally participants marched on the presidential palace on 30 October they found police with water cannons deployed there waiting. Since according to one Western journalist the majority of the rally participants were pensioners, and given that in the course of the three-hour rally that proceeded the march security forces would have had ample opportunity to determine that the number of participants was way below the 70,000 Vartanian had hoped for, it seems somewhat implausible to claim that the march posed a genuine security threat.

True, the water cannons were not used, and the demonstrators eventually dispersed without violence. But later that night, police broke down the doors of Vartanian's Yerevan home and took both him and his lawyer Karo Karapetian into custody. At least 21 other people were subsequently detained in connection with the day's events.

Opinions within the Armenian body politic vary as to whether Vartanian was acting within the confines of the law as well as to why the Armenian leadership overreacted as it did. Several minor left-wing political parties (including Manucharian's Union of Socialist Forces), the Armenian Helsinki Committee and the Union of Millionnaires of Armenia condemned Vartanian's arrest as illegal and political persecution. The nationalist organization Hayots Tun formed a committee to protect Vartanian's rights.

But the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun, which supports the president, and a parliament deputy from the pro-government Orinats yerkir (Law-Based Country) faction both made the point that while Vartanian may have articulated anger and resentment shared by much of the population, he had no right to try to channel those emotions into an apparent bid to overthrow the president and seize power himself. Even parliament deputy speaker Tigran Torosian admitted on 4 November that the demonstrations convened by Vartanian and others suggest that the present leadership has lost touch with the population at large.

Most press comment assessed the authorities' retaliation against Vartanian as both incommensurate and counter-productive, arguing that his arrest may bestow on him martyr status.

In an interview aired on Armenian National Television on 2 November, Kocharian expressed understanding for the frustrations of the long-suffering and increasingly alienated population. "I do understand that when salaries, benefits, pensions are not paid on time and when there are no jobs, a considerable part of the unhappy," Kocharian said. He urged his audience to "be patient just a little longer and everything will be all right." Kocharian assured them that Armenia is on the threshold of "very serious economic growth," which will translate into a marked improvement in living standards no later than April-May 2001. He predicted the creation of 40,000 new jobs as a result of investment by the World Bank and by U.S. billionaire Kirk Kerkorian's Lincy Foundation in infrastructure projects.

Referring to Vartanian, Kocharian suggested that he may have been acting on behalf of unspecified "forces that do not want to see a stable, developed and economically strong Armenia that is able to pursue an independent foreign policy." Predictably, given that Vartanian is a Russian citizen and has boasted of his connections with influential political and economic figures in Russia, local observers interpreted Kocharian's remark as an allusion to Russia. Equally predictably, Russian Ambassador Anatolii Dryukov has denied that any Russian political faction or state structure is backing Vartanian.

Such disclaimers are unlikely to convince many given Moscow's perceived ongoing efforts to effect a rapprochement with Azerbaijan. Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom Kocharian claims to enjoy an excellent relationship, is scheduled to visit Baku later this month and Georgia at some time in December. It is therefore conceivable that the Armenian authorities' apparent over-reaction to Vartanian's activities were meant not as a warning to him, or to other opposition Armenian politicians, but rather as a message to Moscow not to meddle in Armenian domestic politics. (Liz Fuller)

Are Chechen Politicians Planning For The Long-Term? In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" published on 5 November, Beslan Gantemirov, who was recently reinstated as mayor of Grozny (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2000) reasserted that his feud with interim Chechen administration head is definitively over (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3. No. 29, 21 July 2000 and No. 37, 15 September 2000). Gantemirov said that he has complied with Kadyrov's demands to dismiss several of his supporters from regional administrative posts, and that he and Kadyrov have agreed that in the event of further tensions or disagreements between them, they will both resign. But true reconciliation, he added, will be possible "only when there is a real Chechen government in Grozny."

Days later, Kadyrov himself traveled to Moscow to present to Russian leaders his blueprint for such a government. Kadyrov has recently complained that his own powers are too limited to enable him to resolve Chechnya's problems. "Vremya novostei" reported on 9 November that Kadyrov will specifically push for greater control over economic matters, especially the financing of rebuilding the republic's devastated infrastructure. Viktor Kazantsev, President Vladimir Putin's representative to the South Russia federal district, has also argued in favor of restructuring the interim Chechen administration to give its head broader powers.

Kadyrov will also lobby, the paper predicts, for the introduction of the post of Chechen premier, who would coordinate the work of local subdivisions of federal ministries. That arrangement would enable Kadyrov to concentrate his energies on political tasks, specifically on conducting talks on cooperation with the heads of Russian regions and international organizations. According to "Vremya novostei," Moscow is not averse to that proposal, but would prefer to see the post of Chechen premier filled by an ethnic Russian.

That would rule out Gantemirov -- but the latter may prefer to hold out for the post of Chechen president. (He told "Kommersant" that his top priority is to create conditions for the return to Grozny of the estimated 200,000 Russians who fled the city -- and who might subsequently regard him as the most qualified candidate for president.) Aslan Maskhadov's four-year term in office expires in January 2001, but the Russian leadership has indicated it would not condone the election of a new president before late 2001 or 2002. (Liz Fuller)

Headline Of The Week. "Chechen wolves seek quiet life among the Russians" (Reuters, 9 November)

Quotations Of The Week. "It is not possible to tolerate this any longer. The people have been deprived of land, bread, water, gas and light, and now the time has come to deprive them of their vote." -- Liberal Party of Azerbaijan chairwoman Lala Shovket at a press conference in Baku on 7 November (quoted by Turan). "It was long known that the elections would be falsified, but no one expected the falsification rate to be so high." -- Azerbaijan National Independence Party chairman Etibar Mamedov, quoted by Turan on 6 November. "We are a nation of winners not losers." -- Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, interviewed in "Hayots ashkhar" on 7 November.