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Power transfer in Azerbaijan

August 19, 2003

BAKU: They came out in the thousands last weekend, carrying placards and chanting slogans: “Down with the monarchy!” “Dismiss the president!” Indeed, hardly a day goes by without a new demonstration against ailing President Heydar Aliyev and his son Ilham, the newly appointed prime minister.

But the crowds of recent days are not the throngs that surged through Baku’s streets a dozen years ago in the chaos of post-Soviet independence. This time, independent observers here say, the protesters have little chance of achieving their goal: blocking the expected transfer of power from father to son in the Oct. 15 presidential election.

It’s an increasingly common reality of politics in former Soviet republics such as Azerbaijan, the public forms of democracy, such as organized political parties and a critical press, are tolerated, but the opposition does not constitute a genuine threat able to topple the existing powers. In some former Soviet republics in Central Asia, such as Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, even the symbolic attributes of democracy are missing; elsewhere the opposition is allowed to exist but is too weak to win. Outside the Westernized Baltic states, an opposition candidate has replaced an incumbent leader in a former republic only once since 1994 — and that was when the Communists made a comeback in tiny Moldova three years ago.—Dawn/LAT-WP News Service (c) The Washington Post