What do you most want to know from candidates taking part in Azerbaijan’s 2005 parliamentary elections? And from the officials and election observers charged with counting and monitoring the vote? Send in your questions from October 31 through November 6, and we’ll deliver the answers.

November 4
Ali Kerimli, Azadlig Bloc Leader, Popular Front Party Chairman

What will be the opposition's response to a vote deemed falsified? And what does exiled Democratic Party Chairman Rasul Guliyev's abortive attempt to return to Azerbaijan mean for Azadlig?

1. There is a considerable number of people who are tired of the government, and at the same time do not sympathize with the opposition. What would be your message to them, and what are you doing to gain their trust?

I firmly believe that Azadliq bloc has the support of the bulk of the electorate but I agree that there are some who are not fully on our side. The choice they have to make is very simple. They must choose between an authoritarian and corrupt regime or the only real alternative - the Azadliq bloc. In the past there was a valid criticism that the opposition is not united - we have responded to that and in March this year formed a union between the three main opposition parties. We developed a strategy and a program of reforms which we believe addresses the concerns of the population and responds to the interests of all sections of our society. We ask the people of this country to put their faith with us so that we can dismantle the corrupt system of the Aliyev regime and replace it with a truly democratic, pluralist system of government, which will ensure that everyone and not just a privilieged few can have a stake in our country's national wealth.

2. What actions can you plan to protect the voices of those whose votes will be stolen that will have the support of not only your Azadlig members, but, also, of those in government?

If the elections are falsified (and we believe they will be) then we shall use all means available to us within the Constitution to defend the rights of all voters - peacefull rallies, court actions etc. I do not quite understand what the question seems to imply. I doubt that the votes of those voting for the candidates of the ruling regime will be stolen - quite the opposite is likely to be the case.

3. How much trust do you put in the exit polls to be conducted by PA Consulting Group to act as a check on official poll results?

We have all the confidence in PA Consulting Group. We do however have concerns over the choice of local subcontractors (SORGU and GORBI) who will carry out the actual exit poll on the ground. There have been instances in the past when these institutions have come up with highly contentious results, biased in government's favor. We are also concerned with the fact that the exit poll is not taking place in the key constituencies targetted by the Azadliq Bloc, including those where our leaders, myself included, are standing. We are not in a position to dictate company policy so we hope that this matter will be taken on board in the future.

4. Rasul Guliyev has failed to return to Azerbaijan. What does this mean for the opposition's ability to maintain momentum among voters in the run-up to November 6?

It was unfortunate that the authorities have prevented Mr Guliyev to return to Azerbaijan and take a full part in the election in which he is a candidate. Many voters will be equally dissapointed given that this is yet another example of the fact that the regime is planing to falsify the election. However, the strength of our movement comes from the unity of the three main opposition parties and not just from the personalities of the three leaders. People will be voting for us because our policies, our plaform and our vision for Azerbaijan respond to the aspirations of the people of this great country. They see a united opposition which stands firm in the face of unprecedented repressive mechanism which the corrupt, authoritarian regime has put into action in recent times and they can see the truth in our struggle. Judging from the fact that tens of thousands of voters have taken part all accross Azerbaijan in Azadliq bloc rallies and meetings with candidates in the last two weeks, I can only state that, if anything, the momentum of our campaign has grown in strength recently.

5. A November 3 Zerkalo article argues that President Ilham Aliyev's October 25 decree gave initiative in the "fight" between the opposition and the government to the government, and that the West, as referee, will be happy to rule in favor of the government it already knows. Has Azadlig lost the initiative? Why has the opposition's reaction to this decree been so negative?

As I answered to the previous question, I don't think we have lost the initiative. Since October 25, despite government obstructionism, we held rallies in Ganja, Sabirabad, Sumgayit and other regions accross the country. These were attended by thousands of people. The reaction to the decree is negative because the decree is not worth the paper it is written on, as indeed were not the previous decrees issued by [President Ilham] Aliyev. Although it is a victory for us that Aliyev has finally succumbed to our pressure and accepted what we have been demanding, we understand that the bulk of recomendations in the October 25 decree cannot be implemented effectively. Delivering ink and other equipement to 5,000 polling districts, training personnel on how to administer the ink and many other technical tasks are impossible to fulfill effectively in just a few days. The NGOs, which, in theory, can now observe the election will not be able to register and find funding in such a short period of time. It is clear, that this decree is a PR stunt designed to pacify critics and [the] international community. It was only issue[d] because Aliyev firmly knows it cannot be implemented. Furthermore, we know that his previous decree of May 11 has not been implemented, so we have no confidence in any decision that this regime makes.

6. How would you evaluate the chances for an agreement - as encouraged by US Ambassador Reno Harnish - between your bloc and the government about holding an opposition rally in central Baku on November 4? Are there concessions that you are ready to make?

There will not be a rally in central Baku or in fact anywhere in Baku on November 4. We have always stood ready to negotiate with the regime over the issue of rallies. Unfortunately, the regime has let down the international community by refusing to discuss the matter. We want to avoid confrontation and suggested to the authorities to allow [us] to hold a final concert rally on November 4 at a stadium, but were refused permission. The venues offered by the authorities were not practical for the purpose of holding a concert. To avoid giving the regime any chance of cracking down against peaceful protestors, we decided not to hold a rally.

7. We've heard about the rallies that Azadlig will hold if the election is falsified. But what's your framework for deciding that the election has been falsified? How many constituencies have to be in dispute? One? One hundred?

We have 5,000 of our own observers in each polling district in each constituency. They will collect data which we will analyze to determine whether the election has been falsified. They will also register all violations that will have taken place on November 6. Then we will consider the final OSCE/ODIHR [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe/Office for Democratic Institutes and Human Rights] election observation mission report and we will also take into consideration the results of the US government exit poll. But our principal source of information will be the data we will receive from our own observers. These are the terms of reference.

8. The opposition says that, if the vote is falsified, events in Azerbaijan will follow not a Georgian or Ukrainian scenario, as happened after with their color revolutions in 2003 and 2004, but an Azerbaijani scenario. Yet, at the same time, are you not looking for support for the opposition in Georgia and Ukraine?

The only support we need is that of the voters of Azerbaijan. The Azadliq bloc have never received any financial support from any foreign source. We have sought moral support from fellow democrats in Ukraine and Georgia and I believe that freedom-loving people around the world support democratic change in Azerbaijan.

AZERBAIJAN: ELECTIONS 2005 is a production of EurasiaNet.org with funding provided by the Open Society Institute.
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