In Final Rally, Azerbaijan’s Ruling Party Touts Status Quo
By Mina Muradova and Rufat Abbasov: 10/31/05

Two days before the November 6 parliamentary elections, Azerbaijan’s ruling party – Yeni Azerbaijan Party (YAP - New Azerbaijan) – closed its election campaign with a rally that urged voters to “Choose a new life with New Azerbaijan,” yet continue with the political status quo.

As part of the joint concert-demonstration, roughly 20,000 people, carrying a one-thousand-meter-long Azerbaijani flag and portraits of President Ilham Aliyev and his father, the late President Heydar Aliyev, walked from the January 20 subway station in central Baku to the Galaba (Victor) movie theater. Speaking to participants, YAP Executive Secretary Ali Ahmadov described the flag as “a symbol of a rally of the many thousands of people” who had come to support the policies of President Ilham Aliyev.

“We are holding a demonstration on the eve of our grandiose victory in the elections and the number of people here proves this,” Ahmadov said in his speech to rally participants, dressed in white shirts and caps emblazoned with the YAP logo and carrying flags in the party colors of blue and white. “It is a victory for each of you. It is a victory for the whole of Azerbaijan. And it is a victory for President Ilham Aliyev.”

In a November 3 cabinet meeting, Aliyev emphasized that line with a stern warning to ministers that the government would brook no challenges to its authority. "If anything does not satisfy you, or you do not agree with, have any other approach, or policy, come and [tell me]. There is no problem. I am for such [an] attitude,” Aliyev told cabinet members, according to the state news agency Azer-Taj. “But [to sit] here and to act in concert with [the] opposition, grant them money to let them . . . overthrow the president. . . This will be prevented.”

The statement came in reference to the recent dismissal and arrest of Health Minister Ali Insanov and Economic Development Minister Farhad Aliyev on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government in conjunction with exiled opposition leader Democratic Party of Azerbaijan Chairman Rasul Guliyev. A slew of top government officials, a former finance minister and the former head of the National Academy of Sciences have also been detained as part of the investigation.

Banners proclaiming “We say ‘No’ to destructive forces” and “Yeni Azerbaijan Party is the guarantee of an independent state” underscored Aliyev’s message at Friday’s final YAP rally. The November 4 demonstration is thought to be the biggest mass event staged by the ruling party since the 2003 presidential elections.

Unlike YAP’s event, the Baku mayor’s office rejected plans by the opposition bloc Azadliq to stage a joint concert and demonstration also on Friday, a holiday to celebrate the conclusion of the month of Ramadan. After the refusal was announced, Azadlig canceled the event altogether, instead holding its final demonstration on November 3, in the city of Sumgayit, some 25 kilometers outside of Baku.

At the same time, leaders of opposition bloc Azadliq are confident that if the elections are fair and free their parties – Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA), Musavat Party and Democratic Party of Azerbaijan - will be able to take at least 75 seats in the parliament out of 125. “Several of our surveys showed that the majority of the population is not going to vote for the ruling party and, therefore, the authorities are going to resort to falsification,” PFPA leader Ali Kerimli said in a November 3 press conference in Baku.

The opposition leader went on to describe the election campaign, which ended on November 4, as “undemocratic”. “We do not think that it was free and it was conducted in the environment of fair competition. During the whole period, we were faced with restrictions on the right of the opposition to assemble freely,” Kerimli said.

The latest report from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Election Observation Mission, issued on October 27, stated that although candidates held numerous rallies across the country, “the campaign has been married by widespread police arrests and intimidation of opposition party members of supporters.”

For now, however, the representative of one OSCE member state appears prepared to give Azerbaijan the benefit of the doubt. “Democracy is a constantly developing process,” US Ambassador Reno Harnish told journalists in Baku on November 3. “No country can have an ideal election.”

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


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A young supporter of the ruling YAP party holds a poster of Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev at a rally in Baku. (Yigal Schleifer for Eurasianet)