Azerbaijan strongman Ilham Aliyev has secured a fourth consecutive term in a snap election boycotted by the main opposition parties, near-complete results showed.
An Aliyev victory was widely seen as a foregone conclusion with the Caspian state’s downtrodden opposition unable to mount a serious challenge to his authoritarian rule.
Aliyev’s position has been boosted in recent years by the steady influx of petrodollars into his government’s coffers.
In power for 15 years, Aliyev received 86 percent of the vote on April 11, with 94 percent of votes counted, the Central Election Commission said in a statement.
Turnout was 74.5 percent, the statement added.
Claiming victory in the election, Aliyev addressed the nation, thanking Azerbaijanis for “support and trust.”
“Citizens of Azerbaijan have voted for security and progress,” he said in a televised address.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the first foreign leader to congratulate Aliyev on his electoral win, the Azerbaijani presidency said in a statement.
Erdoğan stated that Aliyev’s election for the fourth time would benefit the region’s peace, security and stability, Turkish presidential sources said.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım also congratulated Aliyev for the results.
The main opposition parties in the tightly controlled Caucasus nation boycotted the vote, calling the elections a sham and accusing the authorities of preparing to rig the vote.
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 prevent 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 Agence France-Presse.
“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.
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.
Some 5.2 million people were registered to vote in polls monitored by international observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.