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Azerbaijan - Political Parties

Although there were more than 50 political parties, the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party, chaired by President Aliyev, dominated the political system. The constitution and law provide citizens with the right to change their government peacefully; however, the government continued to restrict this right in practice by interfering in elections. The law also provides for an independent legislature; however, the Milli Majlis's independence was minimal, and it exercised little legislative initiative independent of the executive branch.

Electoral law is based on proportional representation and voting is according to party lists. This system encourages selection of candidates who are able to influence a high enough spot on the list to get elected, and renders elected officials more accountable to the party leaders than to their own constituencies. For members of parliament (MPs) to advance and gain influence, they need to be disciplined followers of their parties’ leaders. As a result of the top-down hierarchical mechanisms of party control, the parties rarely have clear doctrines and people are often confused about what they stand for. This is one of the reasons that Azerbaijani citizens have such low trust on political parties.

Unlike in neighboring countries where opposition parties are in a constant state of flux, the opposition parties in Azerbaijan have experienced only minor changes in their leadership and have remained centered more on personalities than ideology. The opposition bloc includes over a dozen parties, but only few can be considered as major. Center-right and nationalist parties dominate. Leftist forces and the Communist Party appear to have little appeal. The parties with the largest popular support are the Musavat party, the Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP), Azerbaijan Democratic Party (ADP) and the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (APFP).

Political parties lack clear platforms or strategies to engage and represent constituents, as they act more like political machines focused on winning elections and seeking to reward their followers. Political parties have focused on winning elections and answering primarily to their own leaders rather than responding to their constituents. While in a competitive democracy a certain amount of such practices occur, the stark lack of oversight and accountability allow such practices to take extremes in Azerbaijan. While there are some isolated sparks of dynamism in participation, particularly at the local level, the legacy of non-participation has proven difficult to overcome.

In the late 1980s, the advent of Mikhail S. Gorbachev's policy of glasnost in Moscow encouraged vocal opposition to the ruling Azerbaijani Communist Party (ACP). In 1989 the central opposition role went to the Azerbaijani Popular Front (APF), which was able to capture the presidency in the 1992 election. But failure to resolve the disastrous conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh continued to destabilize Azerbaijani regimes throughout the early 1990s. Growing masses of disaffected refugees pressed vociferously for military victory and quickly shifted their support from one leader to another when losses occurred, negating efforts to establish solid political institutions at home or to make concessions that might provide a diplomatic solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

In 1993 the APF leadership was overthrown, and former communist official Heydar Aliyev was installed as president. When Aliyev ran for president in 1993, he combined former communists and other minor groups into the New Azerbaijan Party, which became the governing party when Aliyev was elected.

Aliyev's ruling New (Yeni) Azerbaijan Party (YAP) continued to dominate the political system. Domestic observers reported that membership in the ruling party conferred advantages such as being given preference for public positions. The ruling party, New Azerbaijan Party is integrated by minor politicalgroups and individuals that served under the President’s tenure as leader in the Communist party. As a political machine, the YAP distinguishes itself from the others not only for its national dominance, but also for its ability to establish roots in local politics. This in part is supported by the regional authorities or Executive Committees (Ex-Com), the powerful representatives and watchdogs of the central government in the regions. But the YAP is far from a monolithic entity, containing pragmatists, reformists, and opportunists, with the pragmatists thought to be in the strongest position.

Other than organizing demonstrations against the government and boycotting negotiations over election reform, opposition parties have not been able to develop coherent platforms or programs as options to the government’s agenda. This leaves voters to differentiate among opposition parties on the basis of their leaders and their level of opposition to President Aliyev rather than impressions of how they might govern if elected. The government dismisses the opposition as unserious and provocative.

Members of the opposition were more likely to experience official harassment and arbitrary arrest and detention than other citizens. Regional branch opposition party members reported that local authorities often took actions to prevent routine party activities, such as pressuring restaurant owners not to allow opposition parties to use their facilities for meetings and events. Regional party members often had to conceal the purpose of their gatherings and hold them in remote locations. Opposition party members reported that police often dispersed small gatherings at tea houses and detained participants for questioning.

The 07 November 2010 election did not meet a number of international standards. Unlike previous elections since the country's independence, no opposition party members obtained seats in the flawed 07 November 2010 parliamentary elections, with 70 elected parliamentarians from the President's New Azerbaijan Party, 10 were from various other political parties that largely support the President, and 42 claimed no party affiliation, but consistently vote with the ruling party. Traditional opposition parties Musavat and the Popular Front are not represented in parliament.

New Azerbaijan Party, National Revival Party, Azerbaijan Democratic Reforms Party, Civil Solidarity Party, Umid (Hope) Party, Justice Party, Ana Vatan (Motherland) Party, Azerbaijan Social Welfare Party, Citizens’ Union Party, Great Establishment Party, and United Azerbaijani Popular Front Party held seats in Parliament. The Musavat Party, Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, Liberal Party, Democratic Party, Modern Musavat and others did not hold seats in Parliament.

Opposition parties and local NGOs reported widespread interference in the candidate registration process. Election officials registered nearly 100 percent of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party candidates, but only 30–40 percent of opposition party candidates. Media monitors concluded that news coverage favoring the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party, combined with restrictive interpretations of public assembly laws, created an unlevel playing field for candidates during the official campaign period and exposed citizens to no meaningful political debate. The Central Election Commission (CEC) organized televised roundtables for all candidates, granting each candidate four minutes to present his or her platform and political views.

In December 2009 municipal elections were held throughout the country. Media monitors concluded that all television stations largely ignored the preelection period. Political parties were required to have candidates registered in at least one-half of all municipalities in order to qualify for free airtime during this period, a requirement that only the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party met and subsequently refused to use. Opposition parties and local NGOs reported interference in the candidate registration process. Official results showed a turnout of approximately 32 percent, which was low for the country and indicated the general apathy of voters to these elections.

A number of opposition and independent media outlets operate in Azerbaijan. The print media expressed a wide variety of views on government policies, although objective, professional reporting was rare. The broadcast media adhered almost exclusively to a progovernment line in their news coverage. Most print outlets in the country were organs of the ruling party, opposition parties, or were thought to be connected to prominent government officials. Newspaper circulation rates, both government and opposition, were low, not surpassing 5,000 in most cases. Many newspapers were circulated only in the capital. Opposition party members continued to report difficulties in finding jobs teaching at schools and universities. Most known opposition party members teaching in state educational institutions had been fired in previous years.

The law provides for freedom of assembly; however, the government severely restricted this right in practice. Although the law stipulates that groups may peacefully assemble only with prior notification of relevant government bodies, the government continued to interpret this provision as a requirement for advance permission from local officials. On 12 June 2010, Musavat and the Popular Front Party (PFP) held an unsanctioned demonstration in Baku. Police detained 32 persons including activists Ramiz Khalilov (Musavat) and Abulfaz Gurbanly (PFP) for 10 days each. Police also issued official warnings to Arif Hajily and Tofig Yagublu and fined Tural Abbasly and Ahad Mammdli each AZN 25 ($30). On June 19, the Azadliq coalition again held an unauthorized protest in Baku. Police detained 83 participants. The police later released 79, but four activists were detained for several days. On July 3, opposition parties held a united unsanctioned demonstration in Baku. Police detained approximately 70 participants.

Restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, and association impaired political party activities and significantly limited citizens' right to change their government through peaceful elections. Freedom of expression has "significantly deteriorated" in the country since 2005 for journalists, activists, and ordinary citizens. Self-censorship had become "pervasive" and many civil society and political party activists feel that they are living in an environment increasingly hostile to freedom of expression.

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Page last modified: 27-03-2013 13:31:15 ZULU