Azerbaijan's Aliyev on track to win fourth term as president

His position has been boosted in recent years by the steady influx of petrodollars
His position has been boosted in recent years by the steady influx of petrodollars

12 April, 2018

They have also condemned Aliyev s surprise - and unexplained - decision to hold the election six months ahead of schedule, saying it was aimed at shortening the campaign period and hampering efforts to prevent vote-rigging.

In 2016, Azerbaijan adopted fresh controversial constitutional amendments, extending the president's term in office to seven years from five. The correspondent was told at the polling station that he is not registered, whereas the central election commission earlier said that there is no rule on restricting the work of photographers.

The National Council of Democratic Forces, an opposition group, claimed late Wednesday that only about 15 percent of the electorate voted, while Azerbaijan's elections commission reported the turnout at almost 75 percent.

"We have never seen free elections in this country".

The authorities rejected the opposition s criticism, insisting the vote was free and fair.

Ilham Aliyev has been President of Azerbaijan since 2003. Opinion surveys have put support for the incumbent at over 80 percent (Washington Post) and opposition parties say they are boycotting the elections because of Aliyev's record.

Ilham Aliyev was re-elected in 2008 and 2013 in polls that were denounced by opposition parties as fraudulent.

In 2009, he amended the country s constitution so he could run for an unlimited number of presidential terms, a move criticised by rights advocates.

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The referendum also abolished the minimum age for presidential candidates, which used to be 35, sparking speculation that Aliyev was grooming his son, Heydar, who was 19 years old at the time, to eventually become president. The ramps will also facilitate the persons using wheelchair to come to polling stations independently and vote.

Opposition leaders say these "dummy candidates" were hand-picked by the authorities so the vote looks competitive. The younger Aliyev has further cemented the family's grip on control by appointing his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva as first vice president.

The former Soviet republic's huge energy reserves and strategic location on the Caspian Sea make it an important alternative for Europe to Russian oil and gas.

"For decades, the Aliyevs have been appropriating Azerbaijan's national riches, they have amassed enormous hidden wealth", Khadija Ismayilova, an anti-corruption campaigner, told AFP. Faced with an unprecedented backlash over its human rights violations, the Aliyev regime has maintained the same line - reiterating, ad nauseam, that the Azerbaijani government respects all democratic freedoms, including freedom of speech.

Some 600 worldwide and 60,000 national observers from 11 parties are monitoring the transparency and order during the elections, which are also taking place in 421 polling stations overseas.

There are 5.2 million eligible voters in the country of 9 million people.

The Central Election Commission was to begin releasing results late Wednesday, following government-commissioned exit polls shortly after the vote closes.

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