The date for Azerbaijan's presidential election has been set for October 17, with the official campaign period to start June 17. Recent indicators point to President Heidar Aliyev making a run for reelection despite his health woes. Opposition leaders, meanwhile, are already complaining about government efforts to fix the vote.
Aliyev appears to be making a gradual recovery following his April collapse. [ For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. On May 31, state television showed him presiding over an expanded cabinet session. However, Aliyev did not make an appearance at the June 3 opening of the 10th Caspian Oil and Gas Exhibit in Baku, an event that he has traditionally attended.
The same day as the conference opening, authorities prevented Aliyev critics from demonstrating outside the parliament building against the adoption of what the opposition daily Yeni Musavat termed an "anti-democratic electoral code."
A main opposition complaint with the code is that it allows the government to appoint two-thirds of the seats on the Central Election Commission, which oversees the campaign and ballot-counting processes. Critics also say the code effectively limits the ability of Azerbaijani non-governmental organizations to mount election monitoring efforts.
During the May 31 cabinet session, Aliyev spoke about the need for Azerbaijan to hold a free election. "We have to hold the elections in a fully transparent and fair way. The violation of law and order is inadmissible," said Aliyev, who spoke softly and seemed short of breath.
Opposition leaders deride Aliyev's comments, saying that the police behavior on June 3 underscores that incumbent authority intends to use all resources at its disposal to retain power. A representative of the opposition Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (ADP), Aydin Quliyev, accused authorities of planning to buy votes, adding that the government would soon launch "a campaign of complete falsification," Yeni Musavat reported.
Just who will be the governing New Azerbaijan Party's candidate for president remains uncertain. But many observers are assuming it will be Aliyev, unless he suffers a relapse of his illness. The May 31 cabinet session was designed to show the Azerbaijani population that "he [Aliyev] can still work, convene large meetings, and compete in the election, despite his long-term serious illness," Quliyev said.
Meanwhile, speaking in a Washington, DC event on June 4, ADP Chairman Rasul Guliyev, called for international pressure on Aliyev's administration to ensure fair elections. As long as the government controls the electoral process, Guliyev maintained, "one cannot expect a fair or transparent process."
Guliyev, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, has expressed interest in being a candidate for president, and has asked for international assistance to help him return to Azerbaijan. He is a former parliament speaker, who split with Aliyev in 1996. Authorities in Baku brought embezzlement charges against Guliyev in 1998. He insists these charges are politically motivated, designed to intimidate him from returning to Azerbaijan and mounting a political challenge to Aliyev's administration. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive]. At the Washington event, which was sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Guliyev indicated that he might return to Azerbaijan during the summer to begin a presidential campaign, "even if I face the possibility of arrest or terror."
In examining the widely held belief in Baku that the president seeks to transfer power to his son, Ilham, Guliyev questioned the younger Aliyev's ability to govern. "Ilham is too emotional and of limited competence," he said, "and lacks support even inside President Aliyev's inner circle."
Guliyev characterized Aliyev's administration as authoritarian in nature and warned of instability surrounding a political transition process. "Dictatorships tend to leave a power vacuum after they collapse, with horrific consequences on the people," he said. "We need to assure that there will be a peaceful and systematic transition to a democracy."