Aliyev Wins Third Term as President of Azerbaijan
TEHRAN (Tasnim) - Ilham Aliyev won a third term as president of the oil-producing ex-Soviet republic of Azerbaijan on Wednesday in an election the opposition said was marred by voting violations.
Aliyev's control over most levers of power and media outlets made his victory a foregone conclusion for many in the nation of 9 million, even though the fractious opposition united for the first time in a presidential poll behind a single candidate.
Election officials said a partial count gave Aliyev nearly 85 percent of the vote with almost 80 percent of ballots counted in a country he has dominated since he succeeded his long-ruling father Heydar a decade ago, presiding over an oil-fuelled economic boom but tolerating little dissent.
Dozens of cars honking and carrying the flags of Azerbaijan and Aliyev's ruling party cruised down Oilman Avenue, a central Baku thoroughfare whose high-priced boutiques have come to symbolize the massive oil revenues enjoyed by the Azeri elite, Reuters reported.
"I am grateful to the Azeri people for voting for me and putting their trust in me and the future development of the country," said Aliyev, speaking on state television.
The president has faced criticism at home and abroad over the government's treatment of its critics, as protests are quickly quashed and one rights group said a pre-election crackdown had doubled the number of political prisoners.
A gaping divide between the rich and poor and allegations of corruption which Azeris say pervades many aspects of life has galvanized domestic opposition.
Aliyev opened the path to a third five-year term by backing a 2009 referendum that scrapped presidential term limits. He won the presidency in 2003 and 2008 in votes international observers said fell short of democratic standards.
At the ruling New Azerbaijan Party headquarters, supporters gathered near a screen repeatedly showing Aliyev, 51, casting his ballot.
"We voted for our president because there cannot be any other president in Azerbaijan besides Ilham Aliyev," said leather-clad biker Ilham Ibragimov, waving party flags.
The election commission said Jamil Hasanly, a 61-year-old historian who represents a coalition of parties, received 5 percent of the vote. There were eight other candidates.
Hasanly, a former lawmaker and adviser to the late Abulfaz Elchibey, who was president for about a year in 1992-1993 but was driven from power shortly before Heydar Aliyev's election, said there was evidence of violations including ballot stuffing.
International monitors said the pre-election atmosphere was characterized by a combination of apathy and fear.
A recent Human Rights Watch report said that in the last year the government had intensified its crackdown on civil society and passed a number of laws to curtail any form of dissent, including a $10,000 fine for organizing or attending an unsanctioned rally.