"This is a first for Azerbaijan"
How young activists with different views have united in ‘The Movement’ bloc to change the country
Azerbaijan will hold a snap parliamentary election on 9 February. A new parliament was supposed to be elected in November 2020, but President Ilham Aliyev decided that an election should be held now. Last December, he signed a decree to dissolve the fifth parliament and hold elections for the sixth.
It is not clear why there was such hurry to hold an election as the governing New Azerbaijan Party had a majority in parliament and controlled all decision-making. In addition, it was the ruling party that initiated the dissolution. Some of the reasons cited were "to expand the geography of reform" and "give way to young patriots". The country's president backed the initiative and said it was necessary "to give the population an opportunity to select people they trust".
Twenty parties applied to the Central Electoral Commission to register to run in the snap parliamentary election. The National Council of Democratic Forces, which is an alliance of several opposition parties and movements, is not among them. The Council decided to boycott the election, explaining that it did not believe the election would be democratic. Very young activists, however, decided to take the opportunity to revitalize parliament and created a new united Azerbaijani opposition.
"A new format"
The new electoral bloc "Hərəkət", or The Movement, was established by young opposition activists specifically to run in the upcoming parliamentary election. The new opposition unites representatives of different political movements, right-wingers, left-wingers, feminists, former political prisoners, and lawyers – young activists in all fields who are willing to vie for seats in parliament.
"We decided to run in the election as independent young politicians", the bloc's Ulvi Hasanli, a parliamentary candidate and Civil Movement Nida board member, said. "This is a first for Azerbaijan. So far, there have only been political blocs and alliances of political parties. This is a new format."
Indeed, unlike other political alliances, members of the bloc are not members of any political party, and they have different and sometimes diametrically opposing views, ideologies and positions.
"The Movement is a bloc in which each of us has their own independent platform. I myself am a representative of the leftist movement. We have rightists in the bloc, we have people with completely different ideologies," says another candidate from the bloc, economist Togrul Veliyev.
"Women are in the front rows of this fight"
Rabiyya Mammadova, 32, is a parliamentary candidate in The Movement. A reserve army soldier, athlete, Azerbaijan and Eurasia taekwondo champion, and activist in the feminist movement, she is one of the organizers of the "No to violence against women" protest which was held in Baku on 20 November 2019. Rabiyya plans on fighting for women's rights in parliament:
"I started fighting at an early age. First, I fought for my rights in our family, now I demand my rights from the government. I think that if I am calling on people, mainly women, to come and stand in the front rows, then I myself should also become a role model and fight to prove that women are part of this despite the entire lack of rights, injustice and discrimination."
Last December, Rabiyya ran in the municipal elections, which she lost. However, she did not lose her fervor. It was with great optimism that she accepted the invitation to join The Movement.
"At the very least, we want to liven up parliament. I think the youth will make parliament an operating entity”, Rabiyya says.
"A breath of fresh air"
All members of the bloc say that only the younger generation should be in the future parliament.
"We plan to be a breath of fresh air for society", blogger Mehman Huseynov said in an interview.
Mehman is the only former political prisoner among members of the bloc whom the CEC registered as a candidate. The other two, Ilkin Rustamzade and Elgiz Gahramanli, were denied registration. Mehman recently coined a catchphrase about the parliament that has caught on; members of the public have started calling the parliament 'the retirement home'.
Members of the bloc say the population is tired that the same members of parliament have been elected every time, but the problems facing people have persisted.
"People have often said that they are tired of the old people, and therefore they now want to give their votes to the young," says Togrul Veliyev, who together with his volunteers collected signatures for registration with the CEC and was able to talk to hundreds of voters.
"You say 'parliament' and they don’t understand”
Members of The Movement bloc have different views, ideologies and priorities, each has their own independent platform, yet it has not stopped them from sharing resources, collecting signatures for each other, ‘splitting’ volunteers among themselves, and even supporting and attending meetings with the voters of their friends in the bloc. Members of The Movement whom the Central Electoral Commission denied registration are helping their more successful allies to conduct their election campaign which will last until 8 February.
The common goal of the bloc is to get the population interested in elections again.
"Our citizens are too apolitical. When signatures were being collected, it turned out that even in the capital city, Baku, there are quite a few people who know nothing about the parliament or elections," says Elgiz Gahramanli. “You say 'parliament' and they don’t understand”. Only when you say 'member of parliament' do they understand what we mean, but even then it turns out that they are not going to go to the polls and have never done so. One woman told us that she was going to vote for Ilham Aliyev and we were not able to explain to her that we were talking about a parliamentary election and that the president is not running in it”.
And those who know about the election more often than not do not believe in fair and transparent elections in this country. Togrul Veliyev met many people who were indifferent to the election and that voting in it is useless.
"The are saying that we are young, why should we do this, and that everybody knows already who will win anyway. However, people have a lot of problems and we are trying to explain to them that whether or not their problems will be resolved depends on whether or not they go to the polls".
The young opposition members want to show that a new generation of politicians has entered the political arena in Azerbaijan.
"People in Azerbaijan have no hope for a bright future of their country. We joined this process in order to give hope back to people. We want to tell them not to believe everything has been lost in the country; that is not the case. There are many young people who were jailed and released from prison and continued along their path. This is exactly what we want to communicate to people in the course of the election campaign. Do not think that everything has been lost in Azerbaijan – that is not the case. There are people who are fighting, and we will change this country"
/With the support of the Russian Language News Exchange
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