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Ilham Aliyev claims Azerbaijani voters have already "made their choice"

Publisher EurasiaNet
Author Konul Khalilova
Publication Date 10 October 2003
Cite as EurasiaNet, Ilham Aliyev claims Azerbaijani voters have already "made their choice", 10 October 2003, available at: [accessed 18 January 2022]
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Konul Khalilova 10/10/03

As Azerbaijan's presidential campaign enters its final days, Ilham Aliyev, son of Azerbaijan's ailing president and the ruling party's presidential candidate, has claimed that voters "have already made their choice" in favor of continuity. Meanwhile, the leading opposition candidate, Isa Gambar, has picked up a key endorsement from a rival political leader.

In a pre-recorded televised campaign speech October 8, Ilham sought to project an air of inevitability about the election, saying only the incumbent New Azerbaijan Party could ensure stability through the continuation of President Heidar Aliyev's policies. "There is no alternative to his policies," Ilham said referring to his father, who is continuing to receive treatment for a heart condition in the United States. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

Ilham attacked the main opposition candidates – Gambar, head of the Musavat Party, and Etibar Mamedov, leader of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party (ANIP) – saying the duo was intent on fostering "chaos and anarchy." He went on to make a variety of populist campaign promises designed to garner support among the most distressed segments of Azerbaijani society. He vowed to create 600,000 jobs over the next five years, as well as resolve a housing crisis faced by the tens of thousands of Azeris displaced by the Karabakh war. "Our task is not to leave a single tent camp in Azerbaijan. All refugees and displaced persons will be moved into new, modern dwellings," he said.

On October 9, Gambar – the opposition leader who, according to some polls, is the most popular presidential candidate of the crowded field – received a major boost when Rasul Guliyev, the exiled leader of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, urged his supporters to vote for the Musavat Party leader. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Guliyev's written appeal, distributed by the Turan news agency, indicated that in the event of Gambar's election victory, the Democratic Party and Musavat would cooperate in the reorganization of "presidential, parliamentary and judicial institutions," according to Turan.

Many observers believe Ilham will emerge victorious in the election, if for no other reason than the ruling party is expected to try to use fraudulent means to ensure a dynastic transition of power. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archives].

Ilham has attempted to cast himself as "the guarantor of stability and order in the Caucasus," saying that he will continue his father's policies. Such rhetoric, some observers contend, is designed to help justify the possible use of non-democratic means to enable the ruling party to retain executive power. At the same time, Ilham has consistently portrayed the outcome of the election as a foregone conclusion.

"Everywhere I have gone [during the campaign] I was met with great respect," Ilham said. This warm welcome given to me proves once again that the Azerbaijani people support this [Heidar Aliyev's] policy. The Azerbaijani people have made their choice."

The government's treatment of opposition journalists during the campaign is fueling concern about ballot fraud. Pressure against opposition journalists has intensified over the past six weeks, both international and Azerbaijani media watchdogs say.

One group, the Ruh Committee to Support Journalists in Azerbaijan, reported that there were 40 instances in September in which authorities took measures to restrict media freedom. It added that 32 journalists were beaten by police during a September 8 incident, in which the media members were attempting to cover a police interrogation of Fuad Mustafayev, an ANIP leader who fought with presidential candidate Hafiz Hajiyev during a televised debate. [For background see the Eurasia Insight article]. In addition, law-enforcement officials in Azerbaijan's regions have routinely harassed journalists covering campaign appearances made by opposition candidates.

In early September, Walter Schwimmer, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, and Freimut Duve, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, issued a joint statement calling attention to the conditions for campaign coverage in Azerbaijan. They expressed particular concern about a perceived government attempt to muzzle a leading opposition newspaper, Yeni Musavat, through the manipulation of the judicial system.

"We are in particular alarmed by the fate of the newspaper Yeni Musavat, which has been sentenced to three fines amounting in total to 100,000 US Dollars and whose bank account has been frozen. Without commenting on the substance of the law suits, it seems clear that such a high fine is disproportionate," the statement said.

"We are all the more worried that this may discourage critical reporting at a time when media pluralism and the full and unhindered exercise of press freedoms will be essential in the run up to the forthcoming presidential elections," the statement added.

The joint statement has not had the desired effect of restraining government pressure on opposition journalists, according to media representatives in Baku. Azer Hasrat, head of the Azerbaijan Journalists Confederation, has suggested that authorities could resort to kidnapping journalists in an attempt to silence criticism of the government.

"Authorities will be held responsible if anyone from our newspaper is beaten, kidnapped or murdered," said Gabil Abbasoglu, Yeni Musavat's deputy editor in chief.

Editor's Note: This story contains reporting by EurasiaNet contributor Konul Khalilova.

Posted October 10, 2003 © Eurasianet

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