BAKU — The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has slammed Azerbaijan’s snap presidential election for being held in a “restrictive environment” and lacking genuine pluralism with incumbent strongman Ilham Aliyev on the verge of a landslide victory that will hand him a fifth consecutive term as president.
Aliyev, who called the early election following Baku’s swift and decisive victory over ethnic Armenian separatists in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, faced no opposition amid a crackdown on independent media and the absence of any real contender.
The Central Election Commission said early on February 8 that with just over 93 percent of the ballots counted, Aliyev HAD garnered 92.05 percent of the votes. Election officials reported turnout of more than 76 percent of eligible voters.
“While six other candidates participated in the campaign, none of them convincingly challenged the incumbent president’s policies in their campaigns, leaving voters without any genuine alternative,” the OSCE observer mission said in a statement issued on February 8.
“While preparations for the election were efficient and professional, it lacked genuine pluralism and critical voices were continuously stifled…. The campaign remained low-key throughout, lacked any meaningful public engagement, and was not competitive,” the OSCE observer mission said.
According to the Central Election Commission, Zahid Oruj placed far behind in the vote with just 2.19 percent, while Fazil Mustafa came third with 2 percent. None of the other four ersatz candidates received more than 2 percent.
Musavat and the People’s Front of Azerbaijan (APFP), the two parties in Azerbaijan that offer genuine opposition to Aliyev — who has exercised authoritarian control over the country since assuming power from his father, Heydar, in 2003 — boycotted the race.
The APFP on February 8 announced that it does not recognize the results of the election.
“There was no real election as the polls were held without competition, freedoms were completely restricted, [the voting took place] in an environment of fear, threats, and administrative terror, and the declared results are not an expression of the will of the people and are illegitimate,” the APFP said in a statement.
A presidential election had not been scheduled to take place until 2025, but Aliyev, bolstered by Baku’s recapture of Nagorno-Karabakh, announced the early vote in December to take advantage of the battlefield victory.
Irregularities were reported as the vote took place. Observers “noted significant shortcomings, mainly due to issues of secrecy of the vote, a lack of safeguards against multiple voting, indications of ballot box stuffing, and seemingly identical signatures on the voter lists,” the OSCE said.
RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service also collected reports of alleged irregularities, including so-called carousel voting, where individuals are transported to multiple polling stations to vote more than once and ballot tampering.
Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Aliyev in a phone call on February 8, according to a statement on the Azerbaijani president’s website.
“The heads of state reaffirmed their confidence that allied and strategic partnership relations would continue to develop across various fields and discussed the prospects for cooperation,” the statement said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy also congratulated Aliyev in a message on X, formerly Twitter.
“Congratulations to President Ilham Aliyev on his reelection,” Zelenskiy wrote, adding, “I value mutual support for our states’ sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
While Aliyev has voiced support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, Azerbaijan has maintained close ties with both Moscow and Kyiv.
The 62-year-old Aliyev has stayed in power through a series of elections marred by irregularities and accusations of fraud. Under his authoritarian rule, political activity and human rights have been stifled.
He called the snap election just months after Azerbaijani forces retook Nagorno-Karabakh region in a blitz offensive in September from ethnic Armenian forces who had controlled it for three decades. The offensive forced more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians to flee the region, leaving it nearly deserted.
As Aliyev’s popularity shot up dramatically following Azerbaijan’s victory in Karabakh, a crackdown on independent media and democratic institutions intensified in the country.
Several independent Azerbaijani journalists were incarcerated after Baku took over Karabakh on various charges that the journalists and their supporters have called trumped up and politically motivated.
“Highly restrictive media legislation as well as recent arrests of critical journalists have hindered the media from operating freely and led to widespread self-censorship, limiting the scope for independent journalism and critical debate,” the OSCE statement noted.