Opposition-Government Negotiations: So Much for the Revolution?
By Rovshan Ismayilov: 11/11/05

Nearly a week after Azerbaijan’s November 6 parliamentary vote, reports have surfaced that the opposition and government are holding talks aimed at resolving the dispute over election results. Some opposition leaders, however, maintain that an opposition boycott of parliament will occur.

Since the November 6 voting, the Central Election Commission (CEC) has cancelled results in two constituencies and re-considered results in favor of candidates from the Azadlig (Freedom) opposition bloc in two others. President Ilham Aliyev has also fired the governors of two regions for alleged interference in the voting process. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Two constituency election commission chairmen and two precinct commission heads in #42 Sumgait and Baku’s #9 Binagadi have been detained by the prosecutor-general’s office for suspected election fraud.

At the same time, the government seems to be softening its stance on opposition rallies in Baku. On November 10, Ali Hasanov, head of the presidential administration’s political department, told the Turan news agency that authorities will sanction opposition rallies. “However, I hope the opposition will avoid illegal actions,” Hasanov said. The opposition plans to hold its next rally on November 13. [For additional information see related EurasiaNet story].

According to a local report, the government and opposition have started negotiations with the help of Western diplomats. Citing unnamed sources, Day.az reports states that the CEC “might reconsider election results in about 20 constituencies in favor of opposition candidates.” The report claims that such a decision would be taken depending on the outcome of negotiations.

One source in the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA), who asked not to be named, told EurasiaNet that this issue was discussed during a meeting at PFPA headquarters between Azadlig leaders, a senior US embassy official and the country directors of the International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute. “They [the embassy official and country directors] came after a meeting with presidential administration officials and tried to persuade the Azadlig bloc to agree to an additional 20 seats for the opposition. They said that during the last week President Aliyev undertook some steps to meet opposition demands,” the source said. The PFPA is one of parties comprising the Azadlig bloc.

However, the PFPA official said that the opposition leaders rejected this reported offer. “[Azadlig leaders] Ali Kerimli and Isa Gambar claimed Azadlig won the elections and no less than 60 seats for the whole opposition coalition (Azadlig, Liberal Party of Azerbaijan and YeS) would satisfy them,” the source said.

The US embassy in Baku refused to comment on the issue. “We have no official information for the media,” a spokesperson said.

Although PFPA Deputy Chairman Fuad Mustafayev confirmed that the November 10 meeting had occurred, he denied that “the mandate issue” was discussed. “The general post-election situation was discussed,” he said.

On November 11, leaders of the Azadlig and YeS blocs, along with Lala Shovket, head of the Liberal Party, met in the British embassy with ambassadors from the European Union and the United States, Turan reported. The meeting reportedly covered election results and supposed falsifications.

The opposition maintains officially that the government has not sufficiently addressed complaints about election irregularities. “The Azadlig bloc together with the Liberal Party [of Azerbaijan] and Yeni Siyaset (YeS) alliance does not accept these cosmetic changes,” Sardar Jalaloglu, first deputy chairman of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, one of Azadlig’s three member parties, told EurasiaNet on November 11. “It is necessary to press for cancellation of the results and for holding new elections.”

Opposition leaders who won parliamentary races claim they will not take their seats in parliament. “We [the opposition] are beginning a struggle for liquidation of the election results,” said Lala Shovket, who won in Baku’s #15 First Yasamal constituency. Ali Kerimli -- the PFPA chairman, won his seat after results in six precincts in Baku’s #31 Surakhani constituency were thrown out – also stated that he would not sit in parliament. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. “The Azadlig bloc took a decision and I am going to obey it. I do not need an MP mandate from the government and I will fight for the triumph of democracy,” Kerimli said.

However, the minimum number of parliamentary seats demanded by the opposition to recognize election results appears to vary. In a November 11 interview with Day.az, Jalaloglu stated that “the opposition could go to parliament only if the CEC will recognize our victory in at least 40 constituencies.”

Meanwhile, some government officials appear to be ready for a degree of compromise. Ali Hasanov told journalists on November 11 that Azerbaijani authorities are ready to launch a dialogue with the opposition. “It is necessary to forget about disagreements and together [government and opposition] think about the future of Azerbaijan. The authorities and opposition are the children of a single society,” Turan quoted Hasanov as saying. In a move to underline that message of political stability, the governing Yeni Azerbaijan Party has said that the party would again nominate incumbent parliamentary speaker Murtuz Aleskerov, 76, to the post of parliamentary speaker.

“Serious measures” will be taken against those who, according to foreign observers, committed voting violations in 15-20 percent of the 125 constituencies, Hasanov added. “Those who are responsible for the violations will be dismissed from their positions. Those who committed crimes will be arrested.”

Some experts forecast that the start of negotiations will mean an end to any calls for a change of government. “They [the opposition] started bargaining with the government. Regardless of how many seats they will finally gEt – 15, 20 or 60 -- it means that the revolution is cancelled. Foreign journalists who are waiting for revolutionary developments in Azerbaijan can start to pack their suitcases,” Ilgar Mammadov, an independent political analyst, told EurasiaNet.

Editor's Note: Rovshan Ismayilov is a freelance contributor based in Baku.

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Government opposition leaders meet at the Baku headquarters of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party - an Azadlig alliance member - following the Nov. 6 elections. (Dean Cox for EurasiaNet)