The Appearance of Opposition Parties

The Appearance of Opposition Parties

The political and social groups that sprang up in Azerbaijan in the late 1980s were initially termed "informal organizations" because they were not yet recognized as legal under Soviet practice. By the end of 1988, about forty such organizations had emerged, many of them focused on nationalism or anti-Armenian issues. The ACP was increasingly regarded as illegitimate by the population, especially after the Soviet army intervened to protect the communist regime in January 1990.

The Azerbaijani Popular Front

Widespread discontent with ACP rule led to the formation of the APF in March 1989 by intellectuals, including journalists and researchers belonging to the Azerbaijani Academy of Sciences. The APF's founding congress in July 1989 elected Abdulfaz Elchibey party chairman. The APF characterized itself as an umbrella organization composed of smaller parties and groups and likeminded individuals. A central plank of its program was rejection of self-determination for Nagorno-Karabakh and defense of Azerbaijani territorial integrity. In its initial policy statements, the APF advocated decentralization of economic and political power from Moscow to Baku rather than Azerbaijani independence from the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the ACP refused to recognize the APF.

Within months of its foundation, the APF had hardened its position, launching a series of industrial strikes and rail service disruptions calculated to force recognition by the ACP. By the fall of 1989, the APF was at the forefront of Azerbaijani public opinion on the issue of national sovereignty for NagornoKarabakh , and the ACP recognized the APF as an opposition party. The APF used its influence on the Azerbaijani Supreme Soviet, the republic's parliament, in advocating the Law on Sovereignty that was passed in October 1989. In January 1990, APF-led demonstrations against the ACP brought Soviet military intervention. In early 1992, the APF played an important role in organizing demonstrations against then-president Ayaz Mutalibov.

Party Configuration after 1991

Two small parties, the Independent Democratic Party (IDP) and the National Independence Party (NIP), were formed by former members of the APF in early 1992. The IDP was led by Leyla Yunosova, a prominent intellectual who had helped form the APF, and the NIP was led by Etibar Mamedov, a frequent critic of Elchibey's rule and APF domination of the electoral process. Azerbaijani military defeats in March 1993 led Mamedov to call for Elchibey's resignation. Mamedov initially approved Elchibey's ouster by Aliyev and the subsequent referendum on his rule.

The ACP formally disbanded in September 1991 during a wave of popular revulsion against the role it played in supporting the Moscow coup attempted against Gorbachev the previous month. Nevertheless, former leaders and members of the ACP continue to play a role in the family- and patronage-based political system, and Aliyev's faction regained its preeminent position. The ACP was revived formally in December 1993 at a "restorative" congress, after which it reported having 3,000 members. 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.

Under election legislation passed since Aliyev's accession, a party must have at least 1,000 members to be legally registered by the Ministry of Justice. Party membership is forbidden to government officials in agencies of the judiciary, law enforcement, security, border defense, customs, taxation, finance, and the state-run media. The president and members of the clergy are likewise enjoined. Parties are not allowed to accept foreign funding or to establish cells in government agencies. The government has banned parties that reject Azerbaijan's territorial integrity or inflame racial, national, or religious enmity.

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