Azerbaijan votes in polls decried as sham by opposition

BAKU (AFP) – Voters in Azerbaijan went to the polls yesterday in Parliamentary elections decried by the opposition as a sham vote that will strengthen President Ilham Aliyev’s grip on power without bringing any real change.

Parliamentary elections had been scheduled for November this year, but Aliyev called early polls in December 2019 after a surprise self-dissolution of the legislature that is dominated by his ruling party.

The move followed a replacement of the prime minister and a number of veteran officials within the presidential administration and the government.

Critics said that Aliyev, 58, seeks to address growing public discontent over an economic slowdown and to improve his government’s image by replacing discredited old elites with younger technocrats.

The opposition had accused the government of limiting their ability to campaign and several parties are boycotting the vote.

Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev casts his ballot at a polling station during parliamentary elections in Baku. PHOTO: AP

“I voted for an opposition candidate,” taxi driver Ilgar Gasymov, 58, said at a polling station in the capital Baku.

“Only the opposition cares about ordinary people’s problems.”

Vafa Alekperova, a 43-year-old schoolteacher, said she voted for a ruling party candidate. “I trust the party and my hopes for a better future are tied to it,” she said.

Turnout was over 12 per cent four hours after the polls opened, election officials said.

Aliyev’s Yeni Azerbaijan party, which faces little challenge from the embattled opposition, is expected to retain its majority in the legislature. It promised that the election would be democratic.

Central Election Commission chief Mazahir Panahov insisted that “all conditions” had been created for a free and fair vote.