Baku, Feb 7 (EFE).- Azerbaijanis began voting in presidential polls on Wednesday, with incumbent Ilham Aliyev widely expected to clinch his fifth term following the September war victory against Armenian separatists in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
In the country bordering the Caspian Sea, more than 6,300 polling stations opened at 8 a.m. local time on the election day.
Around 6.3 million Azerbaijanis are registered to vote until 7 p.m. in the snap election to elect a new president for seven years.
Aliyev, in power since 2003, is a clear favorite after advancing the elections by 14 months from the scheduled date of 2025, capitalizing on his widespread popularity following the Karabakh victory.
He faces six other candidates, mostly loyalists, who did not criticize the president’s administration during the campaign and televised debates.
The extra-parliamentary opposition, which condemned the continued arrests of political activists and journalists, has decided to boycott the presidential elections.
“In Azerbaijan, there are no conditions for the free expression of the popular will. All the fundamental rights of citizens are flagrantly trampled,” Ali Kerimli, leader of the Azerbaijan Popular Front party, told EFE.
The Azerbaijani authorities have invited more than 500 international observers to monitor the elections, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) delegation.
However, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is not among the invitees to observe the election.
Aliyev threatened to review the country’s participation in the Council of Europe after it suspended Azerbaijan’s participation in PACE.
“All this confirms the intentions of the Azerbaijani authorities to once again falsify the elections,” Kerimli said.
Experts said that while Aliyev strengthened his ties with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he maintained his support for all the strategic energy and transportation projects proposed by the West for the Caspian and the Caucasus regions. EFE