The decision to become a political party was made in the first ever digital political congress in Azerbaijan
An Azerbaijani opposition movement known as the Republic Alternative Movement (ReAL) held its founding congress on 9 April and announced that it was officially becoming a political party.
It was the first time in the history of Azerbaijan that a political congress was held via Facebook.
The decision to hold the congress online was made because of the refusal of the authorities to give the organisation-turned-party a place to hold official gatherings, as is mandatory in Azerbaijani legislation.
ReAL announced its intention to transform itself into a political party back in January 2014, and on 28 May of that year a conference was held to create an initiative group that would handle the creation of the party.
The date of the first founding congress of the new political organisation was changed on several occasions because of their inability to rent a place to hold the event.
“In all, we appealed 48 times to the Baku municipal authorities to hold our founding congress in various hotels, business-centers and other places … but every time we received a refusal. For this reason we had to hold the congress online,” said Natiq Jafarli, the Executive Secretary of ReAL.
Jafarli also said that 250 registered delegates participated in the online congress. They decided to create a political party via open voting, as well as confirm the party’s platform and charter.
During the second stage of the congress, this time by secret ballot, Ilqar Mammadov was elected as the chairman of the party. Members of the party’s mejlis (Az. committee, parliament) were also chosen.
“Taking into account the weight of the authority of Ilqar Mammadova and the fact that he is in prison, nobody else put forward their candidacy for the position of chairman,” Jafarli said.
When questioned about the legitimacy of such a congress in the eyes of the authorities, Jafarli said:
“Either way, we do not intend to request official registration of the party at the Ministry of Justice. If we were not given a spot to hold our congress, then they will surely make problems for us when it comes to registration. Moreover, to register, we would have to present the personal information of 1000 of our members to the Ministry of Justice at least. But we don’t want them to run into problems. We are not obliged to request permission from the state in order to be involved in politics. Either way, in our country elections don’t take place on the basis of party lists.”
The Republican Alternative Movement was created in 2009 with the aim of demonstrating against the holding of a referendum witch removed the limitation on the number of presidential terms an individual can serve in Azerbaijan.
The leader of the movement, Ilqar Mammadov, was convicted in 2013 of ‘organising mass riots in the city of Isamilli’. He was sentenced to seven years in prison. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has found his arrest unlawful and politically-motivated. The ECHR has also demanded his immediate release.
This verdict, made back in May 2014, still has to be carried out by the Azerbaijani government.