Azerbaijan's Oppn says it will boycott snap presidential polls
Baku: Leaders of Azerbaijan's main opposition parties pledged on Monday to boycott a snap presidential election which is expected to extend the autocratic rule of President Ilham Aliyev.
"The Popular Front party and the National Council of the Opposition took a decision to boycott the snap presidential election," the Popular Front chairman, Ali Kerimli, said.
"The conditions for a democratic and competitive election in Azerbaijan are not in place, and there is no independent media," he said.
"Opposition parties operate in a semi-clandestine manner," Kerimli said, adding that they would stage protests against the vote in March.
The 56-year-old strongman stunned his oil-rich country last week when he called a surprise snap presidential vote for April 11 -- six months ahead of schedule -- without providing an explanation.
Azerbaijan was initially set to hold the vote on October 17.
The ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party has said that Aliyev will run for a fourth term, a decision that has sparked strong criticism from dissidents.
Opposition politicians have said the decision to hold early elections was aimed at shortening the campaign period and hampering the opposition's efforts to prevent vote rigging.
Isa Gambar, the leader of Musavat party, said his party "refuses to participate in the election because the authorities will falsify its results."
The Alternative Republican Movement -- whose leader Ilgar Mamedov is serving a jail term over charges he had denounced as politically motivated -- also said in a statement that it would boycott the vote.
Aliyev was first elected president in 2003, after the death of his father Heydar Aliyev, a former KGB officer and communist-era leader who had ruled Azerbaijan with an iron fist since 1993. He was re-elected in 2008 and 2013 in polls that were denounced by opposition parties as rigged.