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Azerbaijan’s Top Opposition Parties Allowed to Continue Operating

The country’s main opposition parties have been granted registration by the state after initially being refused. But was it all a trick to delegitimize them among the public?

Azerbaijan’s three main opposition political parties have been granted state registration as required by a new draconian law enacted this year. 

The parties had earlier been denied registration, and the sudden about-face has left some wondering whether it was all a government charade aimed at discrediting the opposition. 

On September 9, the heads of the Popular Front, Musavat, and Republican Alternative (REAL) parties, announced in separate Facebook posts that their respective parties had finally been registered by the state. “But we know that we have overcome only the latest obstacle put before us by the government,” the chair of Popular Front, Ali Karimli, wrote. “As long as this government remains, there will be further obstacles.”

State registration is a new requirement established by the highly restrictive law on political parties that was signed into law by President Ilham Aliyev this January. To be registered, parties have to prove that they have at least 5,000 members through submitting a list with each member’s name, phone number, address, and other details. The law further stipulates that once a party is deregistered by the state, it is prohibited from operating “in any way,” including holding meetings and making financial transactions. 

In July, the above-mentioned trio failed to meet the membership requirement, thus facing the threat of dissolution. The Justice Ministry, which oversees parties’ compliance with the law, allegedly found discrepancies in the lists submitted by the parties. By law, the parties had one month to reapply for registration. 

The ministry has offered no explanation as to why it reversed its decisions, and no explanation was cited in the parties’ statements.

Overall, 19 parties have been registered by the state so far under the new registration regime. The first one to claim the honor was the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (Azerbaijani acronym YAP), chaired by President Aliyev and in power since 1993. The majority of the rest are small parties, including ones that openly function as satellites of YAP and hold seats in Aliyev’s rubber-stamp parliament.  

When the new law was adopted, a number of small parties began disbanding themselves instead of attempting to prove they met the membership threshold. So far more than 30 parties are reported to have been dissolved. Virtually all of them support the government. The leaders of some of them openly acknowledged the pointlessness of their existence while leaders of others have said they made no such decision and learned about their parties’ disbanding through the media. Berlin-based government-critical Meydan TV quoted one unnamed party chair as saying that the decisions on disbanding parties are in fact made by the presidential administration and are later leaked to the media.

In 2022 there were 59 parties registered in Azerbaijan, so the new law has already had the effect of eliminating more than half of them. 

Government critics see the two processes – the registration of the prominent opposition parties and the termination of the smaller, mainly pro-government parties – as serving the same goal: consolidating the government’s control over the political landscape and proving that the opposition is willing to play by its arbitrary rules. 

Some had even predicted that the parties would eventually be allowed registration in an attempt to show how compliant they were with the law. 

“Of course, the smartest course of action, from the government’s point of view, would be to continue their [parties’] degradation by registering them,” public intellectual Altay Goyushov wrote in July. “In fact, after shaming, say, REAL, by saying it has only 400 members, the only logical continuation of events would be to register it.” (Goyushov is himself a former member of REAL and Musavat.)

“The official registration of the three opposition parties was foreseeable. While the clear intention of the new law on political parties is to further consolidate the political system, it would have been seen as unreasonable to push those parties away from the formal institutional domain,” Najmin Kamilsoy, analyst and co-founder at Baku-based Agora Analytical Collective told Eurasianet.

“The current political status quo does not worry the government – and they still do not deem it necessary to have a one-party system. With the provisions of the new law, the government will have more discretionary powers over registered parties. Moreover, emerging opposition parties will be quashed immediately, as in the case of Gubad Ibadoghlu’s Democracy and Welfare Party. It will be more clear in the upcoming elections [2025 parliamentary poll] how the renewed political configuration will play out.”

Source : EURASIA