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article imageAzerbaijan strongman Aliyev wins fourth term

By Elman MAMEDOV (AFP)     Apr 12, 2018 in World

Azerbaijan strongman Ilham Aliyev on Thursday secured a fourth consecutive term with 86 percent of the vote in elections that international observers said were marred by "serious irregularities" and lack of competition.

Aliyev's crushing win in Wednesday's poll was widely seen as a foregone conclusion with the downtrodden opposition unable to mount a serious challenge to his authoritarian rule boosted by the steady influx of petrodollars into his government's coffers.

Aliyev, who has been in power for 15 years, addressed the nation on Wednesday evening, thanking Azerbaijanis for "support and trust".

"Citizens of Azerbaijan have voted for security and progress," he said in a televised address.

The Central Election Commission put the turnout at 74.5 percent.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the first foreign leader to congratulate Aliyev.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also hailed his "decisive victory".

In a message to the president-elect, the Kremlin said Putin "praised Ilham Aliyev's efforts aimed at strengthening friendly, good-neighbourly relations between Moscow and Baku".

But the OSCE said Thursday that its observers at the polls reported "widespread disregard for mandatory procedures, lack of transparency, and numerous serious irregularities".

Observers "often reported indications of ballot box stuffing" as well as "seemingly identical signatures on the voter lists" and "group, proxy and multiple voting", the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said.

The polls also "lacked genuine competition", the international election and war monitor said, with opposition candidates refraining from challenging or criticising the incumbent.

- Opposition boycott -

The main opposition parties in the tightly controlled Caucasus nation boycotted the vote, calling the elections a sham and accusing the authorities of electoral fraud.

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Aliyev's 'efforts aimed at strengthening friendly...
Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Aliyev's 'efforts aimed at strengthening friendly, good-neighbourly relations between Moscow and Baku'

They 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 stop vote-rigging.

But authorities rejected the criticism, insisting the vote was free and fair.

"Azerbaijan is on a firm and irreversible path of democratic development. A free, open and transparent environment has been created in Azerbaijan for the presidential elections," foreign ministry spokesman, Hikmet Hajiyev, told AFP.

"All the candidates enjoy equal rights and opportunities," he added.

Not a single election held in Azerbaijan since Aliyev came to power in 2003 has been recognised as free and fair by international observers.

- 'Unprecedented' powers -

Aliyev, 56, was first elected in 2003, after the death of his father Heydar Aliyev.

A former KGB officer and communist-era leader, Aliyev senior had ruled Azerbaijan with an iron fist since 1993.

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.

Azerbaijan adopted fresh controversial constitutional amendments in 2016, extending the president's term in office from five to seven years.

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

Cementing his family's decades-long grip on power, the president last year appointed his wife Mehriban Aliyeva as first vice president.

Apart from the incumbent president, seven candidates ran in the poll -- all low-profile figures who barely carried out any campaigning.

Supporters have praised the Aliyevs for turning a republic once thought of as an ex-Soviet backwater into a flourishing energy supplier to Europe.

But critics argue they have crushed opposition and used their power to fund a lavish lifestyle for themselves and their family. Aliyev has denied accusations of rights abuses and corruption.

International observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe were to release their assessment of the elections' conduct later on Thursday.

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