Azerbaijan’s longtime ruler Ilham Aliyev is expected to win a new seven-year term in office on April 11 in a snap presidential vote boycotted by major opposition parties that accuse him of authoritarian rule and suppressing political dissent.
The oil-rich Caucasus nation’s huge energy reserves and its strategic location along the Caspian Sea means it is viewed by Europe as an important alternative to Russian energy supplies.
Opposition parties have said they will boycott the vote, claiming that it is illegal and will be rigged.
Azerbaijan's opposition, as well as Western governments and international human rights groups, have criticized Aliyev's government for persistently persecuting independent media outlets, journalists, and opposition politicians and activists
The 56-year-old Aliyev has ruled the South Caucasus country of nearly 10 million people since shortly before his father's death in 2003.
On February 5, Aliyev announced he was bringing forward the date of the vote to April 11 from October 17, a move his government said was necessary to avoid presidential and parliamentary elections clashing in 2025.
The move came after Azerbaijan's Electoral Code was amended in December to allow snap presidential elections provided they are announced at least 60 days in advance.
Seven other candidates are running in the election, which will be observed by international monitors, including the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE).
The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said in a March 29 report that it did not "expect the election to be genuinely competitive, claiming that those who stand against the incumbent in this election either do not present a political alternative or even actively support him."
"We will urge the people to resist that game being played by the authorities," said Jamil Hasanli, the head of the National Council of Democratic Forces of Azerbaijan, a leading opposition movement.
Aliyev won the last election in 2013 with 85 percent of the vote, and Azerbaijan's constitution has been subsequently amended through a referendum to extend the presidential term from five to seven years.
The referendum was condemned by the opposition and human rights activists as a tool to strengthen Aliyev's grip on power.
The referendum also abolished the minimum age for presidential candidates, which used to be 35, sparking speculation that Aliyev was grooming his son, Heydar, who was 19 years old at the time, to eventually become president.
In February 2017, Aliyev appointed his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, as first vice president -- a post also created by the referendum -- placing her first in line to take over if the president dies or is incapacitated.
The election comes amid worsening economic conditions in the country, prompting antigovernment protests.
There has been a steep drop in the value of the national currency, the manat, against the U.S. dollar. Falling oil revenues, which make up the vast majority of Azerbaijan's exports, have also rocked the economy amid a decline in global oil prices.
Citizens have been hard hit by rising inflation, unemployment, and the cost of staple goods.