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Caucasus Report: June 16, 1998

16 June 1998, Volume 1, Number 16

Armenian Parliament Deadlocked Over Election Law. The prospect of pre-term parliamentary elections in Armenia has further receded following the National Assembly's failure at a special session on 11 June to adopt any of three alternative draft election laws under discussion. All three versions -- one drafted by the Communist Party of Armenia, one by Hayrenik party chairman Eduard Yegorian, and the third by parliament commission on state and legal affairs chairman Vigen Khachatrian-- advocated that the majority of the 131 parliament seats should be allocated on the basis of proportional representation (the so-called "party list" system.) Most political parties represented in the present parliament favour the party list system, especially the Dashnaktsutiun, the Communists and the Self-Determination Union, all of which consider that their representation does not accurately refect their level of popular support. The Yerkrapah, however, who with 73 deputies form the majority group within the parliament, want the number of party list seats limited to 40, with the remaining seats allocated in single-member constituencies (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Volume 1, No. 13, 26 May, 1998). Following last week's vote, the Yerkrapah have said they will prepare a new draft law from scratch.

In reality, this seemingly conceptual debate on the relative merits of the proportional vs. majoritarian system centres on the possibilities that the latter affords for electoral violations. Deputies' reservations about the suitability of the single-mandate system in the Armenian context derive largely from the fear that the Yerkrapah, who have clearly defined economic interests that hinge on close ties with government bodies and, especially, control of local authorities, could coopt the latter, and local quasi-mafiosi clans, in falsifying the vote.

The National Assembly is unlikely to resume debate on the election law before its summer recess. That postponement may have broader repercussions: presidential advisor and Self-Determination Union chairman Paruyr Hayrikian told "Yerkir" on 16 June that the parliament's failure to adopt a new election law could damage Armenia's chances of full membership in the Council of Europe. Hayrikian urged President Kocharian to convene a special parliament session and ensure passage of the law. He also affirmed that Yerkrapah claims that Kocharian supports the single-mandate electoral system "distort the truth." (Emil Danielyan & Liz Fuller)

Abkhaz Talks Adjourned. The Abkhaz and Georgian presidential envoys suspended their talks in Moscow on 11 June and returned to their respective capitals for consultations, leaving the door open for a further meeting which Abkhazia's representative Anri Djergenia has said could take place as early as this week. But the primary bone of contention will still be the timetable and conditions for the return to Abkhazia's Gali raion of the ethnic Georgians forced to flee during last month's fighting. Sukhumi insists that Georgians may return to Gali only if they adopt Abkhaz citizenship -- a condition that several thousand Georgians are reportedly ready to accept.

Meanwhile Tbilisi is seeking the backing both of the international community and of the CIS for its repatriation plans. The Georgian parliament ad hoc committee on Abkhazia has appealed to the UN and the OSCE to expedite a peaceful settlement of the conflict and the return of "hundreds of thousands" of displaced persons. This latter formulation clearly refers not just to last month's exodus, but to all those who fled the 1992-1993 war. This maximalist demand is unrealistic, particularly if, as Tbilisi earlier claimed, 1,635 Georgian homes in Gali have been destroyed. In addition, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has appealed to Russian President Boris Yeltsin to convene an emergency summit of CIS heads of state to discuss the repatriation issue. Yeltsin has not yet responded to that request. Djergenia for his part has ruled out the immediate return of the Georgian fugitives, arguing that it was the unregulated repatriation of thousands of Georgians to Gali that precipitated last month's fighting. (Liz Fuller)

Azerbaijani Opposition Threatens Election Boycott. On 9 June, Azerbaijan's Milli Mejlis passed the new law on the presidential elections in the third and final reading, thereby virtually assuring the reelection in October, 1998, for a second five-year term of the present incumbent, Heidar Aliev. Although amendments were made to 32 of the law's 59 articles at the suggestion of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, opposition politicians had criticized many of the law's provisions, including the article allowing the presence of police and security ministry officials at polling stations.

Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar told Turan that Aliyev had committed "yet another mistake" in signing the law, adding that the opposition will continue to demand its revision by the parliament. He said that if the authorities refuse to comply with the opposition's demand for changes in the law, the chances of an opposition boycott of the election will be "very big." But the ambiguity of that statement is likely to deter the parliament from endorsing any changes, given that obduracy could undermine the opposition's present unanimous determination not to contend the poll. (Liz Fuller)

Who Is Leaving The Sinking YAP? Speaking from his U.S. exile in early June, former Azerbaijan parliament speaker Rasul Guliev appealed to members of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP), created by Heidar Aliyev in late 1992 to serve as his personal power base, to quit. In a statement broadcast by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, Guliev told YAP members that "You created this party to build a democratic, prosperous Azerbaijan. But Heydar Aliyev turned around this original aim and created power based on interests of his own family. More than 90 percent of the population live in poverty. The Karabakh problem and refugee crisis remain unresolved. Millions of Azerbaijanis have fled the country in order to survive. This policy has halted the development of Azerbaijan for decades. Aliyev brought into his team members of the old Communist nomenklatura. This group's rule in our country is based on massive corruption ... This party cannot lead Azerbaijan into the next century. This party's ideology is based on dictatorship. I call upon decent members of the party to join the democratic forces."

To date, an estimated 500 - 600 YAP members have acted on Guliev's words. Some of those defectors have since established the Democratic Azerbaijan Party. In a statement outlining their rationale for doing so, the creators of the DAP charge that YAP has abandoned its original ideals of democracy and social justice and degenerated into "a small financial oligarchy whose interests focus on high government posts, and an army of the disillusioned." The DAP's chairman Aydin Guliev has, however, distanced himself from Rasul Guliev's appeal, saying that he and like-minded former YAP members had tried for some time to reform Yeni Azerbaycan from within, but to no avail. (Liz Fuller)