Opposition Candidates to Boycott Azeri Poll

BAKU (Reuters)–Opposition candidates vowed Tuesday to boycott a presidential election in Azerbaijan after parliament passed a controversial law which the opposition says will allow President Haydar Aliyev to manipulate the poll.

The Melli Mejlis (parliament) approved the second of two bills which require a new election before Aliyev’s five-year term expires on October 8. He has not yet signed the two bills into law.

But all the likely main opposition candidates said the draft legislation was flawed and would allow Aliyev–who dominates political life in the oil-rich former Soviet republic–to use fraud to try and stay in power.

There was no official reaction to their charges.

Several opposition figures called for street protests to force the government to change the laws.

The candidates object to provisions allowing Aliyev and his supporters in parliament to nominate all members of the Central Election Commission.

They say the laws also give police and security officials the right to be present at polling places–and limit the ability of opposition candidates to protest against irregularities.

"We intend to boycott this anti-democratic election and will show our protest by organizing demonstrations and meetings. The authorities weren’t ready for elections from the very start and that’s why they came up with these laws," said Ali Kerimov–a leader of the Popular Front.

"The laws give the authorities the means to fully control the elections process," he said. The Popular Front had intended to nominate its leader–former President Albufaz Elchibey–to run for the presidency–which has a five-year term.

Changes were made in 32 of the 59 articles of the law adopted on Tuesday but opposition figures said they had been merely cosmetic and an earlier law allowing Aliyev to control electoral boards remained untouched.

"This law is the latest mistake by an illegally elected parliament and if Haydar Aliyev signs it–he is making a big mistake," said Isa Gambar of the Musavat Party–another probable candidate–adding he intended to boycott as well.

A representative of Lala Shevkhet-Gadzhiyeva of the Liberal Party–the only woman in the field–said she would also boycott.

Rasul Guliyev–a former speaker of parliament now residing abroad who is wanted by the government for alleged corruption and plotting to overthrow the 75-year-old leader–had also intended to run but a spokesman’said he would stay out as well.

Only Etibar Mamedov of the small National Independence Party–which supports Aliyev on most issues–said he would take part.

Foreign diplomats have said the laws are not up to democratic standards and could preclude any hope of a clean election in Azerbaijan–which has vast untapped reserves of offshore Caspian Sea crude oil and natural gas.

Aliyev has signed nearly $40 billion in contracts with foreign firms to help develop the reserves. He has fended off persistent charges of corruption in his government.

A one-time head of the republic’s KGB security service who ran Azerbaijan as its Soviet Communist boss in the 1970s and 1980s–he has dominated its political life since returning to power after Elchibey was ousted in 1993.

Elchibey–elected just a year earlier–fled a military revolt.

Aliyev took over temporarily in Elchibey’s absence because he was first in the line of succession as parliamentary speaker. He won more than 90 percent of the vote later that year in an election in which he faced no serious competition.

International observers said an Azeri parliamentary vote in 1995 was marred by serious irregularities.

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