Baku: Pol Attacks on Baku mayor prompt speculation re power struggle

Eurasianet Organization
may 4 2004


Political analysts in Baku, culling clues from state-run media,
suggest jockeying within the ruling New Azerbaijan Party’s hierarchy
may be intensifying. Recent media attacks on Baku Mayor Hajibala
Abutalibov have fueled speculation about a potential rift within
President Ilham Aliyev’s power base.

Abutalibov has long been the target of criticism by opposition
outlets, including the Yeni Musavat newspaper. But when the official
parliamentary newspaper, Azerbaijan, published an article criticizing
the Baku mayor for letting the city’s construction boom spin out of
control, it caused a minor sensation in the Azerbaijan capital.
Shortly after publication of the Azerbaijan article, several
state-run broadcast media outlets aired features that were critical
of Abutalibov’s performance.

During a subsequent parliamentary debate, ruling party MPs both
defended and chastised Abutalibov. Some pro-government deputies
called on their colleagues, as well as state-run media, not to air
differences in public. “I believe YAP [the ruling New Azerbaijan
Party] has done a lot for Azerbaijan and the official newspaper of
the parliament should refrain from these kinds of accusations and
slanders,” said Musa Musayev, a YAP deputy.

In addition to the Baku mayor, state-run media has criticized the
Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education. The newspaper
Azerbaijan said Aliyev has received thousands of complaints about the
performance of both ministries. This revelation prompted some
political observers to suspect that presidential Chief-of-Staff Ramiz
Mehtiyev may be orchestrating a media campaign to discredit his
rivals for influence within the ruling party.

Minister of Education Misir Mardanov’s response to the criticism
appeared to lend credence to the notion that Mehtiyev was somehow
involved in the attacks. “I know which forces are behind these
articles and I advise them to refrain from them,” Mardanov told Lider
TV. Mardanov and Ali Insanov, the Minister of Health, are widely
viewed as political rivals of Mehtiyev.

The New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) has long been known for its internal
rivalries among various factions, political analysts in Baku say.
Some of the factions comprise politicians from the same region, such
as the Nakhichevan exclave. Other groups inside the YAP are formed
around common economic interests. Former president Heidar Aliyev was
widely recognized as a master politician, capable of maintaining a
delicate balance among factions. Aliyev’s son Ilham, who became
president in 2003, is widely viewed as not having anywhere near the
same level of political acumen as his deceased father. Thus, many
political observers predicted that Ilham might find it difficult to
keep the ambitions of his top lieutenants in check. [For additional
information see the Eurasia Insight archive].

The YAP appeared to come together in order to ensure a dynastic
succession in Azerbaijan, formalized during the country’s
controversial presidential election last October. [For background see
the Eurasia Insight archive]. Now that the father-to-son transition
seems secure, the factions within the YAP may be focusing their
energy on securing a greater degree of influence within the younger
Aliyev’s administration, some analysts suggest.

Abutalibov makes for a relatively easy political target, given the
considerable criticism over the chaotic nature of Baku’s growth in
recent years. The construction of office buildings and other edifices
has not been well regulated, critics contend, leading to a drastic
reduction of green space in the capital. The mayor has also been
assailed for pursuing overzealous urban renewal policies that have
led to the destruction of kiosks that were a primary source of income
for Azerbaijanis displaced by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In
addition, many Baku residents complain about the poor quality of the
city’s roads.

Aliyev has not issued any public comment on the Azerbaijan newspaper
criticism of the Baku mayor. However, the president is on record as
having earlier instructed Abutalibov to make sure that urban
development proceeds “according to the general plan of the city.”
Observers do not believe that the recent signs of maneuvering within
the YAP threaten its ability to govern. However, some analysts say
the president will have to start paying more attention to internal
YAP politics in order to prevent the intra-party rivalries from
becoming a problem down the road.