For the past several months, the ruling party YAP- Yeni Azerbaijan Party- has been experiencing internal turmoil. Rivalry between powerful ministers reached a peak when Minister of Labor and Social Welfare Ali Nagiyev openly accused the Minister of Education Misir Mardanov of creating mass illiteracy in the country. Political observers immediately labeled this fight as the fight between the two clans that serve as the power base for the ruling party, the Nakhchivani and “Yeraz” clans. Nagiyev, who originates from the Nakhchivan region of Azerbaijan (where former President Heydar Aliyev was born and raised) used Parliament’s debates on the state budget to bash at Mardanov and the general decline of the education system in the country. Some deputies reacted angrily to his speech. “I am ashamed that Nagiyev made such speech here and I am ashamed that he is the deputy chairman of our party,” said deputy Musa Musayev, who is known for his close ties with Mardanov.
YAP, long known for its internal instability and fierce rivalry between various regional and economic groupings, has been shaken by several public fights between the high-ranking officials since the death of Heydar Aliyev last year. Earlier in 2004, several governmental newspapers attacked the performance of Baku mayor Abutalibov as well as the ministers of Education and Health. It was widely believed that the chief of the President’s office Ramiz Mehtiyev, who is thought to be leading the Nakhchivan clan, masterminded these attacks. Soon, however, YAP’s official newspaper published a counter-attack article against Mehtiyev himself.
As if these internal fighting between the political power centers were not enough, the two economic “giants” in the country, Minister of Economic Development Farkhad Aliyev and head of the customs committee Kamaleddin Heydarov also were embroiled in a fierce battle.
Farkhad Aliyev (no relation to President Aliyev), using the state policy against monopolies, has attempted to weaken the economic interests of Heydarov, who is widely perceived to be behind the import/export monopolies in the country. Representatives of several international organizations including the World Bank and the IMF, attending a conference organized by the Ministry of Economic Development, pointed out the problems of monopolies and unfair competition in the country. Coupled with fast inflation in the country, the issue of monopolies quickly became a topic of discussion. Both media and the public actively debate the negative role of monopolies in the price increase that has hit the country.
Perhaps in an effort to calm down both sides, President Aliyev signed a decree on the creation of a new, expanded ministry of Energy and Industry. Former Minister of Energy Majid Karimov was appointed to this post. Local economists believe that taking out the industrial sector from the Ministry of Economic development and giving it to a new ministry was a message to Farkhad Aliyev to slow down his attacks.
President Ilham Aliyev’s role in these intra-party rivalries remains unclear. Some analysts believe that the President benefits from this situation and further consolidates his power. Others argue that it is the weakened central power that leads to these bold attacks of ministers at each other and that sooner or later, these fights will lead to the split of the ruling party and the creation of a new opposition base in the country. Wealthy and more resourceful, that opposition would pose a greater threat to the stability of the political regime than the current weakened opposition.