On Eve of Elections, Opposition Campaign Managers Arrested
By Rufat Abbasov and Mina Muradova: 11/05/05

Police have arrested the campaign manager of a leading opposition party, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, during a raid on the party's campaign headquarters conducted just two days before Azerbaijan's November 6 parliamentary elections. The campaign manager of a second opposition party, the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, was detained briefly for questioning, then released.

According to Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA) First Deputy Chairman Sardar Jalaloglu, about 15 policemen in civilian clothes from the interior ministry's anti-terrorism and banditry department rushed into the party's campaign headquarters late on November 3, to search for a gun and confiscated campaign promotional materials.

Some 3,000 recently prepared party leaflets with a message from exiled DPA Chairman Rasul Guliyev urging voters to take part in Sunday's election were confiscated or destroyed during the raid. Three other members of DPA were also detained along with DPA campaign manager Faramaz Javadov late in the evening of November 3, but after a three-hour interrogation about where the posters were prepared, the three activists were released.

Neither the party's leadership nor Javadov's family have information about his fate. Jalaloglu said that six Democratic Party activists are still under arrest as well.

“As far as we know, they were allegedly searching for a gun in our headquarters,” Jalaloglu told EurasiaNet. “If it is so, why did they seize all of our documentation and campaign posters with the statements of our leader, Rasul Guliyev? They did not find any ammunition.”

“They charged that statements against the government are written on our posters, but then they admitted that that is not against the law,” added Jalaloglu, showing posters of Guliyev.

Ministry of Internal Affairs spokesperson Ehsan Zaidov confirmed that the DPA campaign manager had been detained, giving the charge as resistance to law enforcement officers during the discharge of their duty.

According to Zaidov, police had searched the Democratic Party's headquarters on November 3 “in accordance with the law” to check “operative” information about the illegal presence of a gun in the party offices. No gun was found during the search, Zaidov said.

Another source in the ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, told EurasiaNet that Javadov had been sentenced to 15 days in jail.

The Democratic Party, one of three party members of Azerbaijan's largest opposition election alliance, Azadlig (Freedom), has come under increased scrutiny following a failed October 17 attempt by Guliyev to return to Azerbaijan after nearly ten years in exile. In the weeks since, two cabinet ministers and several top government officials have been arrested and charged with organizing a coup in conjunction with Guliyev. The DPA leader, however, has not been charged nor had his candidacy for parliament canceled.

At the same time, on the evening of November 4, Qabil Mammadrzayev, the campaign manager of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, another member of the Azadlig election alliance, was also detained. Party spokesperson Isak Avazolgu said that Mammadrzayev was released after questioning at a police station. It was the third detention of the PFPA campaign manager during the election campaign.

”They allegedly took him for a drug smuggler from Iran,” Avazoglu. “We see this as pressure on our party and an attempt to wreck our election campaign."

The interior ministry's Zaidov, however, denied all information about the detention of Mammadrzayev.

Avazoglu presented the arrest as a continuation of the obstacles he says Azadliq candidates, made up of party members from the PFPA, DPA and Musavat Party, have faced throughout the election campaign. “The authorities created artificial barriers and did not allow our candidates to hold a meeting with supporters of opposition candidates. Opposition candidates and their representatives were feeling pressure from local authorities throughout the campaign. Despite these problems, we believe in our victory,” Avazoglu said

In accordance with election law, parties did no campaigning on November 5, the day before the parliamentary Nonetheless, preparation for the vote continues apace.

According to the PFPA's Avazoglu, Azadliq's three parties will dispatch 5,000 observers to polling stations nationwide on election day. “They have already received the necessary instructions,” he said.

The Central Election Commission (CEC) has also registered more than 1,300 foreign nationals as international observers. According to the CEC, 663 observers will operate within the joint mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR); about 60 will represent the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE); 168 will represent the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), with the rest made up of observers from 45 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Georgia and Ukraine.

Fifty thousand Azerbaijani citizens have been registered as local observers.

The International Election Observation Mission, a joint undertaking of the OSCE/ODIHR, European Parliament, and the parliamentary assemblies of the OSCE, Council of Europe and North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has announced that it will issue a preliminary statement about its observation results at a press conference on Monday, November 7 in Baku.

The ever-changing count of candidates has finally settled at 1,560. As of November 4, more than 500 candidates (460 men, 46 women) had withdrawn from the race for parliament. According to the CEC, 476 persons withdrew their candidacies, while 30 candidates had their registrations cancelled by the court.

Each of the 5,000 voting precincts has already been supplied with pens to apply ink to voters' fingers and special ultraviolet lamps to check the mark in order to prevent multiple voting, said CEC spokesperson Azer Sariyev. Intensive training sessions on how to use the ink and lamps were held from November 2-4 for representatives of all election constituencies and the heads of 124 constituency election commissions (the 125th constituency is located in Khankendi, or Stepanakert, the capital of Armenian-occupied Nagorno Karabakh.), Sariyev said.

According to Interior Minister Ramil Usubov, police have been taking special measures since October 15 to ensure public order in the country on election day. The intensive work regime will last until November 10, Usubov said during a November 3 meeting with US Ambassador Reno Harnish.

“Our citizens should feel safe. The police are ready to take measures against any provocations and disorder,,” Usubov said in a November 5 interview with local television channels. All main government buildings have been placed under “intensive” police control, he added.

In an interview with ANS television on November 3, Presidential Administration Public and Political Department Head Ali Hasanov claimed that the government has information about plans by opposition leaders to organize protests on election day.

“The opposition leaders realize that they conducted an unsuccessful election campaign and will attempt to organize various protest actions intended to cast a shadow on transparent parliamentary elections,” Hasanov said. “But all attempts to destabilize the situation in Azerbaijan will be stopped by the country's law enforcement forces.”

The Azadliq bloc has denied that such protests will be held and reaffirmed that no unsanctioned actions would be organized until November 7.

International scrutiny of the vote promises to be intense. On November 4, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack again stated that Washington will closely monitor the outcome of the weekend elections in Azerbaijan and hoped that the vote would be free and democratic. "The free expression of the will of the people through such elections is vital to Azerbaijan's future and to a strengthened US-Azerbaijani relationship," said McCormack.

Editor's Note: Mina Muradova and Rufat Abbasov are freelance journalists based in Baku.

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A policeman and a worker stand in front of the Central Election Committee in downtown Baku. The CEC is responsible for administering the Nov. 6 parliamentary elections and for dealing with any irregularities. (Yigal Schleifer for Eurasianet)