Azerbaijan's presidential elections begin amid opposition claims of unfairness

Ilham Aliyev reelected in Azerbaijan say exit polls

Ilham Aliyev reelected in Azerbaijan say exit polls

Opposition lawmakers have also accused Aliyev of calling the elections six months ahead of schedule in order to shorten the campaigning period and hinder attempts at preventing ballot-stuffing.

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.

Azerbaijan's Ilham Aliyev, who has led the former Soviet Republic for 15 years, secured his fourth consecutive term on Wednesday.

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.

"I'm sure that the election results do not depend on the choices of voters and that's why I'm not going to vote", said Sanubar Aliyeva, a 56-year-old housewife, whose two adult sons are unemployed.

The move came after Azerbaijan's Electoral Code was amended in December to allow snap presidential elections provided they are announced at least 60 days in advance.

The ruling New Azerbaijan Party claimed Aliyev's victory two of hours after polls closed. 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.

Ilham Aliyev has been President of Azerbaijan since 2003.

Ilham Aliyev was re-elected in 2008 and 2013 in polls that were denounced by opposition parties as fraudulent.

He succeeded his father, Geidar Aliyev, who ruled Azerbaijan first as Communist Party boss and then as a post-Soviet president for the greater part of three decades.

"The climax of the tragicomedy was that some of the candidates called on people to vote for Aliyev", independent analyst Bahtiyar Hajiev told AFP.

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

The oil-rich Caucasus nation'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. Another amendment in the Constitution enabled Aliyev to run for office as many times as he wants, because the limitation of a candidates' nomination was abolished, thus, enabling the authoritarian leader to consolidate power even more.

But critics argue they have crushed opposition and used their power to fund a lavish lifestyle for themselves and their family. Faced with an unprecedented backlash over its human rights violations, the Aliyev regime has maintained the same line - reiterating, ad nauseam, that the Azerbaijani government respects all democratic freedoms, including freedom of speech.

Some 5.2 million people are registered to vote.

Some 600 global and 60,000 national observers from 11 parties are monitoring the transparency and order during the elections, which are also taking place in 421 polling stations overseas.

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