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Azerbaijan election: President Ilham Aliyev wins fifth term

February 8, 2024

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has secured a fifth consecutive term in office. Following the recapture of Nagorno-Karabakh in September, the result was a predictable landslide, but Aliyev's rivals have alleged fraud.

Azeri President and presidential candidate Ilham Aliyev casts his ballot at a polling station during the Azerbaijani snap presidential election
In a symbolic gesture, the president and first lady went to Karabakh to cast their ballotsImage: Azerbaijani presidency/AFP

President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan secured a fifth consecutive term in elections on Wednesday, winning 92% of the vote.

"The Azerbaijani people have elected Ilham Aliyev as the country's president," Central Election Commission chief Mazahir Panahov told a press conference.

Turnout in the snap election, which was called a year early following Azerbaijan's recapture of the Nagorno-Karabakh region from Armenian separatists last September, was 67.7%.

Several thousand Aliyev supporters gathered on Wednesday evening in the streets of central Baku to celebrate his re-election, singing patriotic songs and holding signs with messages such as "Karabakh's liberator" and "We are proud of you!"

Is President Aliyev really so popular?

Although he fell short of the 93.9% predicted by initial exit polls, the margin of victory was still high, even by Aliyev's standards. In previous elections, he generally only won about 85% of the votes.

However, the election was held amid a crackdown on independent media and in the absence of any real opposition.

Azerbaijan's main opposition parties boycotted the vote, which Ali Kerimli of the Popular Front party called an "imitation of democracy."

"There are no conditions in the country for the conduct of free and fair elections," he said.

The six other candidates who ran were little-known and had praised Aliyev as a great statesman and commander-in-chief since he announced the election in December, a year ahead of schedule.

A man casts his ballot at a polling station during the snap presidential election
Aliyev announced the elections in December, a year ahead of scheduleImage: Vladimir Smirnov/TASS/IMAGO

Aliyev casts his vote in Khankendi, Karabakh

Aliyev said he called the election to "mark the beginning of a new era" that sees Azerbaijan have full control over its territory.

For the first time in Azerbaijan's post-Soviet history, 26 polling stations opened in Karabakh, where the president and first lady Mehriban Aliyeva went to cast their ballots in the region's main city of Khankendi.

The enclave has been largely deserted after its entire ethnic-Armenian population — more than 100,000 people — fled to Armenia after Baku's takeover.

In 2009, Aliyev amended Azerbaijan's constitution to allow him to run for an unlimited number of presidential terms. Rights advocates criticized that move, saying it would see him become president for life. 

Then, in 2016, Azerbaijan adopted controversial constitutional changes that lengthened the president's term in office from five years to seven.  Aliyev has further shored up his dynastic grip on power by appointing his wife Mehriban Aliyeva as first vice president.

How did Azerbaijan win back Nagorno-Karabakh? 

Nagorno-Karabakh and large swathes of surrounding territory had come under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia at the conclusion of a separatist war in 1994.

Azerbaijan took back most of the enclave and land around it in 2020 in a six-week war that ended with a truce brokered by Moscow.

Azerbaijan started blockading the road linking the region with Armenia in December 2022, causing food and fuel shortages. It then launched a September offensive that saw separatist forces defeated in just one day and forced them to surrender their weapons.

More than 100,000 ethnic Armenians left the region after the separatist forces were defeated, leaving Nagorno-Karabakh nearly deserted.

Self-proclaimed republic of Nagorno-Karabakh dissolves

mf/jsi (AFP, AP, Reuters)