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Azerbaijan holds snap presidential vote as Aliyev rides support from retaking of Karabakh

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BAKU, Azerbaijan — Azerbaijanis are voting Wednesday in an election almost certain to see incumbent President Ilhan Aliyev chosen to serve another seven-year term, following his government’s retaking of a region formerly controlled by ethnic Armenian separatists.

Aliyev, 62, has been in power for more than 20 years, and this is his fifth election cycle. He ordered an early presidential election in December, shortly after his government retook the Karabakh region in a lightning military operation against ethnic Armenian forces.

Analysts suggested Aliyev moved the election forward from October 2025 to capitalize on his burst in popularity following the successful offensive. He will be in the limelight in November when Azerbaijan, a country which relies heavily on revenues from fossil fuels, hosts a U.N. climate change conference.

Aliyev’s time in power has been marked by the introduction of increasingly strict laws that curb political debate as well as arrests of opposition figures and independent journalists — including in the run-up to the presidential election.

In January, Aliyev told local television channels that he wanted the election to “mark the beginning of a new era,” in which Azerbaijan has full control over its territory. He pointed out that polls would be held for the first time in the Karabakh region after the mass exodus of thousands of ethnic Armenians who fled following the Azerbaijani military offensive.

In the capital, Baku, 52-year-old resident Sevda Mirzoyeva said she was going to be sure to vote in the election.

“I will vote for the victorious leader Ilham Aliyev,” Mirzoyeva told The Associated Press. Aliyev, she said, “returned our lands, which were occupied for many years. And he also accomplished a lot of things, including for young people.”

There is no limit on the number of terms Aliyev can serve, and although six other candidates are standing against him, he has no real political challenger. Several of the candidates opposing Aliyev have previously publicly praised him.

Parts of Azerbaijan’s opposition have alleged that Wednesday’s vote might be rigged. Azerbaijan’s two main opposition parties — Musavat and the People’s Front of Azerbaijan — are not taking part in the vote.

Musavat leader Arif Hajili told the AP that the party would not be participating in the elections because they are not democratic.

“Many journalists and political activists are in jail. There are more than 200 political prisoners. There are serious issues with election law and the election commissions are basically under the authorities’ influence,” Hajili said.

Ali Karimli, leader of People’s Front of Azerbaijan Party, has said that calling for an early election without public debate shows that the authorities are afraid of political competition.

In theory, there can be two rounds of voting if a candidate fails to secure more than 50% of the vote in the first round, but Aliyev is widely expected to be reelected in a landslide, as he has been in previous elections.

The elections in Azerbaijan are being held shortly before those in Russia. Analysts have previously speculated that Aliyev is trying to consolidate his own support and minimize possible Russian influence on the elections by holding them at a time when the Kremlin will be preoccupied with its own vote.

Russia, which has developed warm ties with Azerbaijan, is involved in a delicate balancing act as it also is a key ally and sponsor of Armenia, which took in more than 100,000 refugees from the Karabakh region after Azerbaijan retook control of it in September.

In November, Aliyev presided over a military parade through Khankendi, the capital of the region, telling spectators that “we showed the whole world the strength, determination and indomitable spirit of the Azerbaijani people.”

Khankendi, which Armenians called Stepanakert, was the headquarters of the self-declared separatist government of the territory known internationally as Nagorno-Karabakh. The region and sizable surrounding territory came under control of ethnic Armenians in 1994 at the end of a separatist war.

But Azerbaijan regained parts of it and most of the surrounding territory in 2020 after a six-week war. That fighting ended with a Russia-brokered truce between Azerbaijan and Armenia that called for Russian peacekeeping forces to be deployed there and to ensure open transit along a road connecting the city with Armenia.

However, Azerbaijan began blockading that road in December 2022, leading to severe food and medicine shortages in the Armenian-held area. Then in September, Azerbaijan launched a blitz that forced the separatist forces to disband.

More than 100,000 ethnic Armenians fled the region in the following days, leaving the city nearly deserted and under the control of Azerbaijan.

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