FOR many of Baku's political activists, the continued state of emergency has thrown plans for the Sept. 30 elections into turmoil. The Azerbaijani Popular Front (some members of which remain in jail) is divided on how to proceed. Some members want to take part, even under the state of emergency, says Tamerlan Karaev, chairman of the Front's parliament. Others will boycott, he says, because of restrictions on media access and public gathering. ``It's a paradoxical situation,'' says commentator Aydin Mamedov. ``You can't have a truly free election under a state of emergency. But to lift the state of emergency, you need a new parliament with members who will work to normalize the situation.''
Azerbaijan's Social Democratic Party, led by moderate ex-Popular Front activists who broke away from the Front just before January's upheaval, has decided to contest the elections in any case. At the end of July, the Social Democrats joined 58 other pro-democracy groups (including part of the Popular Front) in the republic to form an election coalition called the Forum for Democratic Azerbaijan.
Zardusht Alizade, a leading Azeri Social Democrat, is hopeful about what the Forum can achieve faced with a monolithic Azerbaijani Communist Party machine.
``If there were no state of emergency, then outright victory would be possible by the Democratic Bloc; but that is theoretical,'' says Mr. Alizade. ``If they don't lift the state of emergency - and the Communists aren't fools, they won't lift it - then we can count on getting maybe 30 or 20 percent of the vote. That would be the best-case scenario. If the Communist Party goes down an even tougher path, then maybe we won't get any seats at all. Then the people won't trust the new parliament any more than the current one.
``And that's a recipe for future conflicts, rallies, demonstrations, mass actions, and more January 20s,'' Alizade warns, referring to the day when Soviet tanks crashed their way into Baku to prevent what Moscow saw as a possible coup threat against Azerbaijan's Communist rulers.
By various accounts, the party's grip on central power here is firmly restored. After last January's much-publicized scenes of Azerbaijani Communists burning their party cards in protest over the Moscow-led crackdown, the republic's party lost only 18,000 of its 400,000 members, in the end. After calming down, many reclaimed their membership to preserve their careers, says Alizade.
But, says an Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry official, it's not known how many members have suspended their membership. And, he adds, there are entire factories that have stopped paying their dues. One party member who is running for the Azerbaijani Supreme Soviet on an anti-party platform is Ziya Buniyatov, father of the military commandant. As head of Baku's Institute of Eastern Studies, vice-president of the Azerbaijani Academy of Sciences, and a Hero of the Soviet Union, Mr. Buniyatov is, of course, a member of the party.
But ask him what he will do if he wins a seat in parliament, and he responds: ``Get the party out of science, health care, culture, the press. ... The partocracy - the one-party system - is a very bad system, because [it means] only words, words, words and a dark future,'' he growls. ``Now, we'll see.''