Azerbaijan election: President Ilham Aliyev wins vote criticised by monitors

Azerbaijan election: President Ilham Aliyev wins vote criticised by monitors
Crowds took to the streets of the capital Baku to celebrate Ilham Aliyev's fifth consecutive termReuters

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has won a fifth consecutive term in power with more than 92% of the vote, according to election authorities.

However, international observers say he had no meaningful challenger.

The main rival parties boycotted the election, with one opposition leader calling it an “imitation of democracy”.

Wednesday’s vote was planned for 2025, but a snap poll was called after the government seized control of a region run by ethnic Armenian separatists.

Mr Aliyev ran against six other candidates although none were critical of his rule.

Thousands of supporters took to the streets of the capital Baku to celebrate the president’s re-election.

State media cited election officials as saying Mr Aliyev had received 92.05% of the vote with over 93% of ballots counted, with turnout at around 76%.

The president typically wins over 85% of the vote in elections which rights groups say are neither free nor fair.

Artur Gerasymov, who led an observer mission from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, told reporters on Thursday that President Aliyev “was not meaningfully challenged… [which] resulted in a contest devoid of genuine pluralism”.

President Aliyev announced the early poll after his popularity surged last year in the wake of Azerbaijan’s successful military campaign in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan’s lightning offensive in September brought an end to three decades of ethnic Armenian rule in the region – which is recognised internationally as Azerbaijani territory.

Most of its 120,000 ethnic Armenian residents fled to neighbouring Armenia although some of the most senior officials in the breakaway territory were arrested and have been held in pre-trial detention in Azerbaijan for months, accused of various offences.

Mr Aliyev described the Karabakh victory as “an epochal event unparalleled in Azerbaijan’s history”, adding that the election would mark the “beginning of a new era” as it was being held on all of its territory for the first time.

Ali Kerimali, the leader of Popular Front, one of Azerbaijan’s main opposition parties, said there were “no conditions in the country for the conduct of free and fair elections”.

“Freedom of assembly is restricted, media are under government pressure, and political dissent is being suppressed,” he added.

Ilham Aliyev, pictured casting his ballot on Wednesday, has officially won over 92% of the vote with most ballots counted

President of Azerbaijan

Mr Aliyev first took office in 2003, following the death of his father, Heydar Aliyev. His family seized power in 1993, two years after Azerbaijan gained independence from the former Soviet Union.

In recent months, Azerbaijani authorities have intensified pressure on independent media outlets, arresting several critical journalists.

Azerbaijan has drawn criticism from human rights group Amnesty International, which accuses authorities of repressing freedom of expression and targeting critical voices of the president.

A number of foreign leaders have congratulated Mr Aliyev on his electoral win, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

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By David Ryckman