Azerbaijan takes steps for fair vote

Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev has ordered urgent steps to make sure a 6 November parliamentary election is fair after Washington voiced concern over a police crackdown in the oil-producing ex-Soviet state.

    Ilham Aliyev faces Western pressure to hold free elections

    Aliyev told officials on Tuesday to draw up plans for applying indelible ink to voters' fingers, and asked parliament to scrap a ban on foreign non-governmental organisations monitoring the election, state television reported.


    Both measures were recommended by democracy watchdog the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) but had been rejected by Aliyev's administration.


    Aliyev - son of the previous head of state - said he changed his mind because he wanted "the final phase of the election process to pass off ... in accordance with the law".


    Coup conspiracy


    Last week police in Azerbaijan arrested two ministers about an alleged coup conspiracy with a fugitive opposition leader, and have rounded up dozens of opposition activists for staging banned protests.


    Azeri opposition has functioned
    in the shadow of state security

    A spokesman for the US State Department said the arrests and other action "raise questions about the government's commitment to a democratic campaign".


    Diplomats say Aliyev has ordered improvements to election procedures in the past, but his officials have failed to implement them.


    The 6 November election is under close international scrutiny after rigged votes in ex-Soviet Georgia and Ukraine led to revolutions - a scenario some of Aliyev's opponents say could be repeated in Azerbaijan.


    Indelible ink is used so that election officials can catch anyone trying to vote twice. Azeri law bans NGOs with more than 30% foreign funding from fielding election observers.


    Kazakh campaign


    Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev and four opposition candidates began their presidential campaigns on Tuesday, with the veteran leader of the oil-rich country seen as sure of an easy win.


    Nazarbayev has began his own
    presidential campaign

    Nazarbayev's main opponent in the 4 December vote is Zhamarkhan Tuyakbai, a former chairman of the lower house of parliament who is the candidate chosen by the For a Just Kazakhstan opposition bloc.


    The three other candidates running are: Alikhan Baimenov, leader of the Ak Zhol party, Mels Eleusizov, head of the Tabigat environmental movement, and Erasyl Abylkasimov, representing the People's Communist Party of Kazakhstan.


    The OSCE, which monitors elections across the former Soviet Union, has never recognised a Kazakh election as free and fair.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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