BAKU : Seeking Legitimacy

Azerbaijan will hold presidential elections Sunday to replace President Abulfez Elchibey, who was forced to flee Baku as a rebel army advanced on the capital last June. Former Soviet Politburo member Geidar Aliyev, 70, is expected to easily defeat acting President Zakir Tagiev, 46, and Kerrar Abilov, 63, a literature professor.

Though Aliyev is enormously popular at home, the former KGB leader badly needs an election victory to give him international legitimacy in the face of a deteriorating national human rights record. Elchibey’s party, the Popular Front, alleges that about 1,000 of its members are in jail for such offenses as distributing leaflets and taking part in demonstrations.

Strobe Talbott, President Clinton’s ambassador-at-large to the former Soviet Union, recently told Congress that “the leadership in Baku must know that relations between our countries will remain severely burdened as long as democracy is denied in Azerbaijan.”