Opposition in Azerbaijan Forges “Democratic Front” to Press Protest Strategy
By Mina Muradov and Rufat Abbasov: 11/11/05
Driven by the belief that the recent parliamentary elections were rigged, opposition forces in Azerbaijan have forged a “Democratic Front” in an attempt to exert greater pressure on the government to “revoke the falsified results.”
In creating the Democratic Front, leaders of the opposition election blocs – Azadlig, YeS and Milli Birlik – issued a declaration stating that the November 6 elections were marred by “breaches of the law, and did not reflect the political will of the Azerbaijan people.” The declaration went on to insist that the Central Election Commission’s results were invalid, adding that a new vote was needed.
The opposition seems committed to a peaceful protest strategy. Officials in Baku granted the opposition permission to stage a rally on November 13 from 3-5 pm. The opposition had originally sought to convene the protest on November 12, but city authorities declined the request, citing the fact that the day – Constitution Day – is a national holiday.
Panah Huseinov, head of election headquarters of the Azadlig bloc, said the opposition would accept local officials’ decision. "Our [tactical aim] is not to give authorities an occasion to use [force]. Therefore, our protest actions will be held exceptionally within the law," he said.
Some prominent opposition figures -- such as Rauf Arifoglu, chief editor of the Yeni Musavat newspaper – have gone on record as favoring the commencement of a prolonged protest action. Yet, according to the chairman of the Musavat Party, Isa Gambar, the opposition has no immediate plans to carry out continual protests, such as that staged in Kyiv during late 2004. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. At the same time, opposition leaders are weighing the possibility of holding rallies outside of Baku in order to "draw all the country in wave of protest." Musavat is one of the parties that comprise the Azadlig bloc.
Huseinov stressed that the opposition might changes tactics, depending on how the situation develops. He also insisted that the opposition did not have "a secret plan of conducting protest actions." However, the deputy leader of Musavat, Arif Hadjily, has held out the possibility that the November 13 rally could turn into a sit-down demonstration.
Aiming to prevent that possibility, Baku police officials have announced they will strictly enforce the protest parameters already outlined by city officials. The deputy chief of police Yashar Aliyev told Turan news agency: "The staging of a sit-down protest action, and the pitching of tents, are not stipulated by Azerbaijani legislation, and any such action will be prevented by law enforcement agencies."
According to Musavat Party officials, police have harassed party activists in many regions – including Sabirabad, Hajigabul and Siyazan -- apparently in an attempt to prevent them from travelling to Baku to participate in mass rallies.
On November 10, officials showed that they can also muster popular support, staging a rally to mark the election victory of the governing Yeni Azerbaijan Party. Tens of thousands of people, many of them state employees and students, attended the pro-government rally at Galaba Square. The crowd was estimated to be larger than that which gathered for an opposition protest the previous day. Some participants at the pro-government rally, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that they had been pressured by their bosses into attending.
Editor’s Note: Mina Muradova and Rufat Abbasov are freelance journalists based in Baku.
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