President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has clinched his fifth consecutive term in elections, official results showed on Wednesday, an outcome widely anticipated following his significant triumph over Armenian separatists last year.
The tallies indicate that Aliyev secured a staggering 92 per cent of the vote, with nearly all polling stations reporting their results.
The election took place amidst a crackdown on independent media and in the absence of any substantial opposition.
“The Azerbaijani people have elected Ilham Aliyev as the country’s president,” AFP quoted Central Election Commission chief Mazahir Panahov as saying at a press conference.
“Turnout was 67.7 per cent,” he added.
Aliyev received praise domestically when his forces regained control of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region from Armenian separatists in September, who had held sway over it for decades.
However, the primary opposition factions in the oil-rich country abstained from participating in the election. Ali Kerimli, a leader of the Popular Front party, denounced the electoral process as a mere “facade of democracy.”
“There are no conditions in the country for the conduct of free and fair elections,” Kerimli told AFP.
The six other candidates who were running were little-known and had praised Aliyev as a great statesman and commander-in-chief since he announced the election in December, a year ahead of schedule.
Singing patriotic songs, several thousand Aliyev supporters gathered on Wednesday evening in the streets of central Baku to celebrate his re-election.
Some demonstrators held signs that read “Karabakh’s liberator” and “We are proud of you!”
The president and first lady Mehriban Aliyeva went to Karabakh on Wednesday to cast their ballots in the region’s main city of Khankendi.
For the first time in Azerbaijan’s post-Soviet history, 26 polling stations opened in Karabakh.
The enclave has been largely deserted after its entire ethnic-Armenian population — more than 100,000 people – fled to Armenia after Baku’s takeover.
Last month, Aliyev called the Karabakh victory “an epochal event unparallelled in Azerbaijan’s history”.
“The election will mark the beginning of a new era,” he said, with the country holding the presidential vote on all its territory for the first time.
Supporters have praised Aliyev for turning a country once thought of as a Soviet backwater into a flourishing energy supplier to Europe.
But critics say he has crushed opposition groups and suffocated independent media.
Aliyev’s win was a foregone conclusion, said independent analyst Ghia Nodia of the Caucasus Center for Strategic Studies.
There was “no suspense whatsoever in these elections without the slightest sign of competitiveness”.
In recent months, Azerbaijani authorities have intensified pressure on independent media outlets, arresting several critical journalists who had exposed high-level graft.
“All fundamental rights are being violated in the country, opposition parties can’t function normally, freedom of assembly is restricted, media are under government pressure, and political dissent is being suppressed,” said Kerimli of the Popular Front.
On Tuesday, Amnesty International said: “The escalating crackdown by Azerbaijani authorities ahead of the elections is not just an attack on individual rights, it’s a widespread, coordinated assault on civil society and the rule of law.”
Aliyev, 62, was first elected president in 2003 after the death of his father, Heydar Aliyev, a former KGB officer who had ruled Azerbaijan since 1993.
He was re-elected in 2008, 2013 and in 2018, with 86 percent of the votes.
All the elections were denounced by opposition parties as rigged.
In 2009, Aliyev amended the country’s constitution so he could run for an unlimited number of presidential terms, a move criticised by rights advocates who said he could become president for life.
In 2016, Azerbaijan adopted controversial constitutional amendments that extended the president’s term in office to seven years from five.
He then appointed his wife as first vice president.
Around six million voters were registered for the election, which was being monitored by observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).