BAKU (Reuters)–An opposition party contesting Sunday’s parliamentary election in Azerbaijan said on Friday police in civilian clothes had arrested its campaign manager and confiscated election leaflets in a raid on its offices.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said it was unlikely police were involved in the Thursday night raid on the campaign headquarters of the Democratic Party. He added: "The police does not involve itself in ransacking anybody’s election headquarters. Our job is to ensure public order."
Western officials say campaigning in Azerbaijan–an oil-producing ex-Soviet state–has been marked by police interference–though they are hopeful the vote will be fairer than previous elections.
Democratic Party head Sardar Jalaloglu told Reuters: "Yesterday evening officers from the police’s anti-banditry directorate raided our campaign headquarters–ransacked it and illegally confiscated all our campaign literature."
"The aim of this is to wreck our election campaign," he added. Campaign manager Faramaz Javadov was arrested in the raid and his whereabouts were still unknown–said Jalaloglu.
The Democratic Party–Azerbaijan’s third biggest opposition grouping–is headed by Rasul Guliyev–who is accused by authorities of plotting to overthrow the government on the eve of the election. Two ministers and several government officials have been arrested on charges of conspiring with Guliyev–who has lived in the United States since fleeing Azerbaijan 10 years ago.
Western diplomats say they believe President Ilham Aliyev genuinely wants Sunday’s election to be an improvement on past votes–which were judged unfair by international observers. But not all his officials share his desire for democratic reform–the diplomats say.