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Azerbaijan: Opposition Leader Encouraged By New Election Laws

Washington, 15 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Azeri opposition leader and presidential candidate Etibar Mamedov says he is encouraged by the parliament's recent passage of amendments to Azerbaijan's election laws.

Mamedov said Tuesday he believes the new laws will help ensure a free and fair environment for the presidential election in October. He also called upon international observers to participate in the process in order to maintain its integrity and openness.

Mamedov is the leader of the National Independence Party of Azerbaijan (NIP). He spoke at a news conference held at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Washington. Mamedov is one of eight openly declared members of an opposition party in the 125-member Azeri parliament.

Mamedov appealed to all Azeri opposition groups to take part in the elections, stressing the importance of achieving political change through the framework of the law and democratic elections.

So far, five potential presidential candidates representing the following parties -- the Social Democratic Party, the Popular Front, the Musavat, the Democratic Party, and the Liberal Party -- have expressed their decision to boycott the October elections.

But Mamedov says his party is "determined" to participate in the elections.

Mamedov explains : "In order to achieve our goals and to formulate people's political views, we have to go through several free and fair elections. In this context, the elections, which are scheduled for October 11, 1998, are of a tremendous importance for Azerbaijan's future direction."

Mamedov says that all of the major political parties need to stop "mutually ignoring each other" and "accusing one another of being an enemy of the Azeri people." He says this is a dangerous and impractical approach to politics and will undermine the public's faith in a democratic process.

Mamedov says it would be useful if the government and the opposition parties first agreed to recognize the existence of each other. Next he encourages all politicians to move away from inflammatory accusations. Lastly, he says it would be helpful if all parties would sit down together and discuss the problems facing Azerbaijan in a civilized way.

Mamedov says his party's major objective before the election will be to educate voters and encourage them to participate in the electoral process. He adds that it is critical to restore the confidence of the Azeri people in the laws of the country and make them believe that political, economic and social changes can be brought about through peaceful and democratic elections.

Mamedov says his party's strongest support comes from business leaders and youth. He adds that businesses in Azerbaijan are "suffering" because of the "unlawful actions" of the Azeri government. He says if he is elected, his party intends to ease the many restrictions placed on businesses and cultivate a more investment-friendly climate.

Mamedov also says his party is supported by women -- adding that about 12 to 15 percent of his party's leadership is composed of females.

Mamedov says his party has faced many pressures from the government, including having party district offices closed and meetings with voters blocked by police. But he says the NIP is trying to downplay these incidents and will continue to work within the framework of the law to participate fully in the October elections.