Azeri poll set to extend controversial rule of Aliyev dynasty

President accused of stifling dissent and using energy wealth to win favour with US and EU

Azerbaijan's leader Ilham Aliyev is poised for another crushing victory in today's presidential election, extending the reign of a dynasty that is accused of stifling dissent while using its energy riches to win favour from the United States and European Union.

Mr Aliyev succeeded his late father Heydar as president in 2003, and has won two elections by huge margins, neither of which were deemed free or fair by western monitors. He also officially won the support of 92 per cent of voters in a referendum on scrapping presidential term limits.

Critics at home and abroad say Mr Aliyev (51) may intend to serve as as president for life, following the example of his father, who became the boss of Soviet Azerbaijan in 1969 and dominated its politics for most of the following three decades.

Mr Aliyev's supporters see him as a guarantor of stability in a volatile neighbourhood: Azerbaijan borders Iran, Turkey, Russia, Georgia as well as Armenia, with which it is still formally at war after a 1988-94 conflict over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh.


The president is also credited with tripling the size of Azerbaijan’s economy and increasing the average income by six times over a decade, thanks to an oil boom that has seen US and European energy firms invest tens of billions of dollars in the nation of nine million people. Azerbaijan’s huge reserves of oil and gas have made it a key ally of the US and EU as they seek alternatives to Russian energy. Supplies for Nato forces in Afghanistan also pass through the country, further enhancing Azerbaijan’s importance to the West and, according to rights groups, encouraging it to turn a blind eye to Mr Aliyev’s autocratic rule.

Activists say Mr Aliyev has tightened the screws on his opponents ahead of today’s vote, with dozens being arrested this year on charges – ranging from drug possession to treason – that their supporters say are fabricated.

Fines for participation in unsanctioned protests were also sharply increased, as were the lengths of potential jail terms for people committing minor offences. Rebecca Vincent of the Human Rights Club in the Azeri capital,
Baku, said Mr Aliyev's authorities have conducted "an unprecedented crackdown to silence all forms of criticism . . . There are now more than 100 people in detention or prison for politically motivated reasons."

Oil money
Oil money has allowed Mr Aliyev to replace the dusty old Soviet centre of Baku with soaring skyscrapers and designer boutiques, but they are only accessible to a tiny portion of Azeris, including those who have allegedly flourished due to their close ties to the Aliyev regime.

The Aliyev family itself is accused of parlaying political power into massive wealth: in 2010, the Washington Post reported that Mr Aliyev's son was listed as the buyer of nine waterfront mansions in Dubai worth some €32 million; the boy was only 11 at the time.

The opposition's challenger in the election is historian Jamil Hasanli, who stepped in when Oscar-winning screenwriter Rustam Ibragimbekov was barred from running due to his dual Russian-Azeri citizenship.