Azerbaijan - Leadership

During the years when he was out of power, Aliyev retained popularity among many Azerbaijanis, including ex-Communist Party members and supporters in NAR. He was particularly respected among most in NAR since he had given preference to Naxcivans in filling government posts when he was the party leader. He also championed autonomy rights for NAR. As war losses in NK increased and the economy declined during 1992–93, calls for the return of Aliyev grew stronger.

In late September 1994, police and others launched a purported coup attempt. Aliyev hinted at Russian involvement. After defeating the attempted coup, Aliyev accused Huseynov of major involvement, forcing the paramilitary commander to flee the country. This and several other alleged coup attempts triggered mass arrests of Aliyev's opponents.

An Aliyev-drafted Constitution was approved by 91.9% of voters in a referendum in November 1995. It strengthened presidential power, established a new legislative system, declared Azeri to be the state language, proclaimed freedom of religion and a secular state, stipulated ownership over part of the Caspian Sea, and gave NAR quasi-federal rights. The president appoints and removes cabinet ministers (the "Milli Mejlis" consents to his choice of prime minister), submits budgetary legislation, and appoints local officials. Aliyev made several concessions to encourage the participation of prominent opposition parties in the October 1998 presidential election, including formal abolition of censorship and the adoption of some changes to electoral laws. However, most opposition parties chose to boycott the election, claiming that pro-Aliyev forces were in control of the electoral commissions. Of the six registered candidates, the major "constructive opposition" candidate was Etibar Mammadov of the Party for National Independence of Azerbaijan (PNIA). Aliyev was elected to a second five-year term, with runner-up Mammadov receiving 11.6% of the vote.

Aliyev moved cautiously and adroitly to consolidate his power, displaying skills as a professional ex-Communist Party politician and security chief similar to those of President Eduard Shevardnadze in neighboring Georgia. He is described as charismatic, enjoying wide support among the majority of the people and repressing those who do not support him. Aliyev designated 15 June as a National Salvation Day in 1997 and provided his portrait to be hung in every school or office. Billboards dot the countryside bearing quotations from his speeches. He faced possible contenders for power in Mutalibov (who continued to have a following within Azerbaijan), the opposition party coalition (especially the Musavat Party, headed by Isa Gambar), and PNIA head Mammadov. As of early 2000, Elchibey, still a prominent member of the APF, was interested in regaining the presidency, but his death in August 2000 removed the only credible political challenge to Aliyev. Most analysts have predicted that Aliyev could win the presidential election scheduled for October of 2003.

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