Azerbaijan's president has won a third five-year term by a landslide, according to preliminary results of the country's presidential poll, extending decades of dynastic rule in the oil-rich Caspian Sea nation allied with the West.
An opposition challenger quickly cried foul, protesting what he described as widespread vote-rigging and questioning the legitimacy of the vote.
With 72 percent of precincts counted, Ilham Aliyev was leading the field with nearly 85 percent of the vote, said the Central Election Commission chief, Mazahir Panahov.
The main opposition candidate, historian Jamil Hasanli, had about five percent of the vote, followed by eight other contenders.
Full preliminary results are expected on Thursday, which is also when international election monitors are due to issue their report on the polls. The Central Election Commission chief insisted that the vote was clean.
"There are grounds to congratulate Aliyev on his victory. We trust the exit-poll results ... Aliyev is the elected president and he will be ruling our country for the next five years," New Azerbaijan party executive secretary Ali Akhmedov said.
Opposition rejects result
Hasanli has alleged a string of violations, including voters being bussed round to cast ballots at multiple polling stations, vote-stuffing and observers being barred from monitoring the vote.
"Massive violations were carried out across the country," the Hasanli campaign said in a statement.
The Hasanli camp "does not accept the election result or recognise it as free or fair", the statement said.
The opposition's hopes of challenging Aliyev suffered a humiliating setback when election officials refused to register its original candidate because he had dual Russian and Azerbaijani citizenship, something explicitly banned by the constitution.
International rights groups have accused Aliyev of pressuring and harassing government critics, leaving them little breathing space to campaign.
Under Aliyev, the nation of nine million has basked in oil riches that have more than tripled its gross domestic product.
Aliyev inherited the presidency from his father, Geidar Aliyev, who had ruled Azerbaijan first as the Communist Party boss and then as a post-Soviet president for the greater part of three decades.
The elder Aliyev fully dominated the political scene, and just a few months before his death secured his son's victory in an October 2003 presidential election that drew Western observer criticism over massive violations and triggered violent clashes between protesters and the police.
Initially dismissed by foes as a pale shadow of his powerful father, Ilham Aliyev quickly consolidated his power and stifled dissent.
He was re-elected by a landslide in a 2008 vote boycotted by major opposition parties and again criticised by Western observers. He then rammed through a constitutional referendum that scrapped presidential term limits.
International rights groups have accused him of pressuring and harassing government critics.
A recent Human Rights Watch report said that the clampdown on freedom of expression and assembly had intensified in the months preceding the vote.
The government, however, loosened the reins ahead of the ballot, withdrawing its long-held ban on rallies in the centre of the capital.
While leaving little breathing space for his domestic foes, Aliyev has expanded energy and security ties with the West, becoming an indispensable regional partner for the US and the European Union.
Tatyana Golikova, a Baku resident and Aliyev supporter, said she expects "the continuation of the right policies of our President Ilham Aliyev".