BAKU (Reuters)–Azerbaijan’s Central Elections Commission on Tuesday called a first round presidential election in October.
Commission chairman Jakhar Veliyev said the election in the former Soviet republic would take place on Sunday–October 11–the day after President Haydar Aliyev’s five-year term ends.
Veliyev said about 5,000 polling stations would be opened across the oil-rich country of eight million people situated on the Caspian Sea.
Aliyev–who brooks little dissent in Azerbaijan and has been criticized by human rights groups for tolerating abuses–is seeking a second term.
"The election will be a fair contest and all the candidates will have equal chances," Veliyev said.
Opposition groups do not agree and the five main challengers for the presidency have announced a boycott–demanding major changes to election laws passed by Aliyev and his docile parliament.
The laws include provisions allowing Aliyev and his parliament to name all the members of the Central Elections Commission–which in turn appoints local election officials.
Etibar Mamedov–leader of the small National Independence Party–is the only other candidate who has said he will take part in the election.
A leading watchdog group recently criticized Aliyev’s government for what it said were unfair elections laws and for the deteriorating human rights situation.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said it was concerned about the apparent impunity of police and judiciary officials–arbitrary law enforcement–and restrictions on the media and freedom of association.
Veliyev said 140 foreign observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe would monitor the vote–but the OSCE has not announced official plans regarding the Azerbaijan election.
To win in the first round–a candidate must receive 50 percent of votes cast plus one vote. A second round between the two candidates with the most will be held two weeks later if no candidate surmounts that hurdle.