Baku, Apr 12 (AFP) Azerbaijan strongman Ilham Aliyev secured a fourth consecutive term with 86 per cent of the vote in a snap election boycotted by the main opposition parties, final results showed today.

Aliyev’s crushing win in yesterday’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 last 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 per cent.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the first foreign leader to congratulate Aliyev. Russian President Vladimir Putin also hailed his “decisive victory,” the Kremlin said.

In a letter to the president-elect, Putin “praised Ilham Aliyev’s efforts aimed at strengthening friendly, good-neighbourly relations between Moscow and Baku.” 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.

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.

“All previous elections in Azerbaijan were falsified and held with blatant violations of the electoral law. These elections will be no exception,” the executive secretary of the opposition Republican Alternative Movement, Natig Jafarli, said ahead of the vote.

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.

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.

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

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.