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Azerbaijan strongman set to win poll boycotted by opposition

Azerbaijan strongman set to win poll boycotted by opposition

Opposition activists have condemned Aliyev's surprise - and unexplained - decision to hold the election six months ahead of schedule.

Earlier in the day at a polling station in the capital Baku, 38-year-old schoolteacher Elmira Balayeva said she had voted for Aliyev because he was the only candidate capable of steering the country towards economic wellbeing and political stability.

The 56-year-old Aliyev has ruled the South Caucasus country of almost 10 million people since shortly before his father's death in 2003. "He got 86.09 percent of votes", Mazahir Panahov, the Central Election Commission chairman told a news conference.

"All previous elections in Azerbaijan were falsified and held with blatant violations of the electoral law". Arrangements for the polling had been fine tuned days before the election by the Azeri Central Election Commission (CEC) responsible for holding of free fair and transparent election in accordance with the democratic norms.

Aliyev, 56, has led Azerbaijan since 2003.

Opposition parties say they are staying away from Wednesday's vote because of Aliyev's sustained crackdown on dissent during his rule and because they say the results will be rigged.

"Many ODIHR (OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights) interlocutors said they do not expect the election to be genuinely competitive, claiming that those who stand against the incumbent in this election either do not present a political alternative or even actively support him", ODIHR said in a March 29 report.

He 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, in a move criticised by rights advocates.

The changes drew criticism from Council of Europe constitutional law experts as "severely upsetting the balance of powers" and giving the president "unprecedented" authority.

A total of eight candidates, including Aliyev, took part in the presidential race. Critics have long accused Aliyev, who will be serving his fourth term in power, of targeting critical voices over the years, by harassing them and their families, forcing them into exile, and jailing them on trumped-up charges.

The main opposition parties say the vote is illegal and are boycotting it.

The country's huge energy reserves and its strategic location along the Caspian Sea means it is viewed by Europe as an important alternative to Russian energy supplies.

"For decades, the Aliyevs have been appropriating Azerbaijan's national riches, they have amassed vast hidden wealth", Khadija Ismayilova, an anti-corruption campaigner, told AFP.

Seven other candidates are running in Wednesday's election, which will be observed by global monitors, including the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) but critics have expressed doubts about how genuine the other candidates are.

The country has about 5.3 million people out of a total population of 9.9 million registered voters.

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