“In Azerbaijan, courage alone is not enough” - well-known rights activist on politics in a country where the power structure has remained unchanged for 30 years
Head of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center (EMDS) Anar Mammadli spoke to JAMnews about the problems facing the Azerbaijani opposition and how best to build a democratic society.
“The authorities will not allow the opposition to come into power”
Anar Mammadli believes that the reason why Azerbaijani opposition has not been able to come to power for 30 years is because the country lacks a competitive environment and a proper electoral institution has not been formed.
“The authorities will not allow the opposition to come into power. Due to the fact that the country has not created a democratic electoral environment, political forces have not changed for years.”
The lack of an electoral environment has also led Azerbaijan to lag behind other post-Soviet countries in terms of democracy.
“It’s not enough to be brave”
When speaking about the leaders of opposition parties, who sometimes remain at the helm for several decades, the human rights activist points out two main factors:
“There are leaders who have been involved in politics for many years and, despite the pressure, continue their struggle. Perhaps this is due to the fact that there is no one to replace them, because few who want to engage in politics in Azerbaijan – it’s a lot more difficult than running a small or medium-sized business.”
Mammadli adds that it’s very difficult for a group of people to create a political party, and therefore the creation of parties should be considered in the context of the country’s political conditions, political freedoms and prohibitions.
Noting that there are oppositionists in Azerbaijan who have devoted themselves to politics for many years, Mammadli adds that they lack a creative approach.
“Courage is not enough. One gets the feeling that the opposition camp cannot go beyond a certain circle, its ranks are not expanding, and the public doesn’t not show any particular interest in them. Perhaps they need other qualities aside from courage?”
“Due to the lack of political potential in society, there are no new political forces and platforms”
At this point, academic circles are seriously discussing whether political parties are needed in countries where there are no legitimate democratic elections. There are no legitimate elections in Azerbaijan either, and in this case, does the existence of parties matter?
Mammadli thinks that it does. Because, although parties cannot influence society through elections, in the intervals between elections, they must represent progressive values, lead a particular part of the society, and be the voice of those they do not see represented.
“All political forces of Azerbaijan, including the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, have faced the problem of marginalization. Politics can get ugly, and the responsibility for this lies with the ruling forces.”
The expert says that the fact that the space where opposition parties can exist is slowly shrinking also causes them to be marginalized. As a result, a part of the population distrusts these parties. In this case, democracy within the party is also lost.
“Today Azerbaijan is in a position where the parties could not achieve a change of power through elections.
The Musavat party, founded at the beginning of the last century, and restored at the end of the same century, and the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, created in the first years of independence, still remain the leading political organizations.”
Mammadli believes that due to the lack of political potential in society, there are no new political forces and platforms.
“When touching on this topic, we must pose the question this way – why are we not seeing new faces in the Azerbaijani parties, and why is the same person leading the party for 30 years? This is due to the difficult political environment in the country now. ”
“If a good political environment is created, then we will witness new political forces in the next election”
The APFP did not participate in the extraordinary parliamentary elections on February 9, but the Musavat and Republican Alternative parties, as well as many independent candidates, did.
“So, If a good political environment is created, then we will witness new political forces in the next election and will no longer argue about why the party has had the same leader for the last 30 years.”
Mammadli places particular emphasis on the fact that if one of the party members puts forward his candidacy for the role of party chairman, it works against him and people immediately begin attacking him.
“For those who advocate for democracy, this is unacceptable.”
“The New Azerbaijan Party does not dominate the political arena”
The EMDS has been operating in Azerbaijan for 18 years, and during this time, it has monitored and prepared reports on all the elections.
As for the election strategies of the parties, the expert reports that, compared with previous years, the parties have lost their fire somewhat and have not shown the enthusiasm that they did during past elections.
Even the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, which once held serious debates and interesting meetings, now no longer dominates the political arena. And the same thing is observed in the opposition camp.
“The average voter is also not interested in the elections, and the recent parliamentary elections have demonstrated this. In general, voter turnout was 10-12 percent throughout the country. This is a very serious problem. Parties and political forces should think about how to attract people to vote. It is necessary to work with people in the periods between elections, so that they understand the significance of this process. Engaging people in the elections should be the main strategy. ”
“In the presidential elections of 2003 and the parliamentary elections of 2005, people were much more willing to go to the polls. And, they say that after 2003, the social well-being of the population increased. So what happened, why do people no longer voting?! Serious social research must be done on this topic.”