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

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  • 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.