Azeri Opposition Rejects Aliyev Poll Concessions Reconfirms Boycott

BAKU (Reuters)–Leading opposition candidates still intend to boycott Azerbaijan’s presidential election this autumn despite concessions made by President Gaidar Aliyev–an opposition spokesman’said on Wednesday.

"Despite the amendmen’s to the election law proposed to parliament by the president–our decision to boycott the polls remains in force," said Arif Hadzhiyev–a member of the Movement for Democratic Reforms and Democratic Elections.

The movement was set up by opposition parties to monitor the election–set for Oct. 11–and try to ensure it is carried out freely and fairly. Hadzhiyev said the amendmen’s were purely cosmetic and would not affect the decision of the five opposition candidates to boycott the election.

"The amendmen’s have changed nothing. They concern only the possible presence of police at polling stations and minor procedures for registering voters," Hadzhiyev told Reuters. Azerbaijan’s parliament–heavily dominated by Aliyev’s supporters–is expected to discuss the amendmen’s this week. The five opposition candidates are the chairman of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan Abulfaz Elchibey–the chairman of the Musavat Party Isa Gambar–ex-chairman of parliament Rasul Guliyev and the leaders of the Liberal and Democratic parties Lala Shovket Gadzhiyeva and Ilyas Ismailov.

Aliyev–who was Azerbaijan’s Soviet Communist boss in the 1970s and 1980s and has dominated Azeri political life since returning to power in 1993–is seeking a second five-year term.

The election law allows Aliyev and his rubber-stamp parliament to name all the members of the Central Election Commission. Western diplomats in Baku have said the election code does not meet international standards and practically precludes the possibility of a fair and free vote. Central Election Commission chairman Jakhar Veliyev has said about 5,000 polling stations will be opened across the oil-rich country of eight million–situated on the Caspian Sea between Russia–Iran–Georgia and Armenia. He said 140 foreign observers from the OSCE would monitor polling throughout Azerbaijan.

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