Azerbaijan’s ruling party has won a clear victory in parliamentary polls boycotted by the mainstream opposition, cementing President Ilham Aliyev’s grip on power in the country.
The Central Election Commission said Aliyev’s Yeni (New) Azerbaijan party took at least 69 seats in the country’s 125-seat parliament, with 91 percent of votes counted early on Monday.
International rights groups have cast doubt on the election, accusing the government of jailing political opponents on trumped-up charges and limiting parties’ ability to campaign in the ex-Soviet state.
Not a single election held in Azerbaijan since Aliyev came to power in 2003 has been recognised as free and fair by international observers.
The leader of the opposition Musavat party, Isa Gambar, told AFP news agency that a win for Aliyev’s party was a foregone conclusion “in the absence of strong opposition candidates and amid widespread violations”.
He decried “countless instances of electoral fraud, including multiple voting and illegal restrictions on observers’ work”.
Musavat announced it was pulling out just four days before the vote.
Yeni Azerbaijan had vowed the election would be flawless.
Final voter turnout was 55.7 percent, said the Central Election Commission.
The tightly controlled Caucasus nation’s leading opposition parties, including the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF), the Musavat party, and the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, all boycotted the polls, with the NCDF calling them an “imitation” of elections.
Another major opposition party, the Republican Alternative (REAL), said it would not recognise the results.
Aliyev took over in 2003 on the death of his father Heydar Aliyev, a former KGB officer and communist-era leader who had ruled newly independent Azerbaijan with an iron fist since 1993.
The mainly Muslim country wedged between Iran and Russia is considered key to Western efforts to reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian hydrocarbon.
Depending largely on its energy exports, the country was hit by a drop in oil and gas prices and the global economic downturn, and in late February 2015 devalued its currency, the manat, by 34 percent against the dollar.
More than 700 candidates from 13 parties and one bloc were standing for the single-house parliament, the Milli Majlis, to be elected for a five-year term.
Over 5.9 million people were registered to vote.