BAKU (Combined Sources)–Azerbaijan will hold presidential elections October 15, the country’s top election official said Monday.
Central Elections Commission chief Mazakhir Panakhov said the date was set by the constitution.
Incumbent Ilham Aliyev, who succeeded his father Geidar in an election in 2003 that was denounced by opponents as a sham, is expected to stand for re-election.
Aliyev has faced persistent criticism over his heavy-handed treatment of independent media and opposition parties.
Isa Qambar, the leading candidate among the country’s fractured opposition groups, is also expected to run, along with candidates from small parties.
The mostly Muslim country on the Caspian Sea, a former Soviet republic, has vast oil and gas reserves and occupies a strategic position between Iran and Russia. Almost 5 million of the South Caucasus nation’s 8 million people are eligible to vote, Panakhov said.
In other news, Azerbaijan will be hosting an international conference in Baku on April 15-16, during which the fundamental principles for resolving lingering conflicts in the territory of GUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova) will be discussed"
The GUAM secretariat, located in Kiev, Ukraine, said today the conference will bring together representatives of other countries and well-known experts in conflict solution. Valery Chechelahsvili, GUAM secretary general, will also travel to Baku where he will meet with its leadership.
President Aliyev has been steadily increasing his war rhetoric over the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Karabakh is a major election issue in Azerbaijan. With negotiations for a peaceful settlement at a standstill, Aliyev has been threatening to take Nagorno-Karabakh back by military force.
Following political unrest in Armenia after disputed presidential elections in February, Azeri Armed Forces on March 4 violated the Nagorno-Karabakh Ceasefire line and opened fire on Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Army positions northeast of the Martakert Region and temporarily captured a Karabakh defense position.
The attack, which was followed by skirmishes throughout the month, was considered by Armenian officials and international mediators as unprecedented in its scale.
Meanwhile, on March 14, the UN General Assembly adopted an Azeri drafted resolution, with a vote of 39, reaffirming the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, reiterating the right of return of internally displaced Azerbaijanis, and calling for withdrawal of Armenian forces from "occupied territories."
The move was followed by requests from official Baku to the OSCE’ secretariat for information on how to dissolve the Minsk Group, which has long been spearheading international efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which has been mediating the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan since the 1994 cease-fire agreement ended fighting between the two sides.