Key Azeri Opposition Parties Unite for Election

BAKU (Reuters)–Two of Azerbaijan’s main opposition parties agreed on Friday to form a joint bloc for a November parliamentary election–the first time they have formed a united front against parties which back President Haydar Aliyev.

Infighting has lost the opposition critical votes in previous elections in a country where Aliyev–an ex-KGB general–has a strong grip on most political life.

“The Azeri people have waited a long time for such an agreement which could give the opposition a real chance to come to power,” Isa Gambar–head of the Musavat party–told a news conference after signing a deal with the deputy head of the Popular Front–Ali Kerimov.

Musavat and the Popular Front are the leading opposition parties in the oil-rich country of eight million people and are expected to win seats in the election along with fellow opposition group–the National Independence Party.

The 125-seat Milli Majlis parliament is currently dominated by pro-government parties–which have around 100 seats. These include Aliyev’s New Azerbaijan Party.

The opposition parties’ 25 seats are held by Musavat–the Popular Front–the National Independence Party and other more minor groups.

Western political analysts said the decision by opposition parties to form a bloc would give them a greater chance.

“This is very good politically as it will reduce vote splitting and more opposition candidates will be able to enter parliament,” said a Western expert–who declined to be named.

Elections held since the Caspian Sea state’s independence in 1991 have been sharply criticized by Western observers–saying they were marked by serious violations.

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