BAKU (Reuters)–The son of Azerbaijan’s ailing leader Haydar Aliyev said he was confident of being voted president of the oil-rich country on Wednesday–creating the first political dynasty in the former Soviet Union.
As polls closed at 7 p.m. (1400 GMT)–Ilham Aliyev was widely expected to win due to his father’s long-term strategy to pass the reins of power to his son in a country seen by many as key to developing an alternative to the Gulf as a source of crude oil.
The poll–criticized by opposition leaders–is being watched closely by big regional powers Russia–Turkey and Iran–and by Western governmen’s and firms keen to see an oil pipeline from the Azeri capital–Baku–to the Mediterranean Sea succeed.
Aliyev junior faced seven rivals in the poll–but observers gave none of the other contenders any chance.
Election officials said almost 65 percent of more than four million voters had cast ballots by 5 p.m. They said no complaints of irregularities had been received.
But the opposition–most of whom have pinned their hopes on the leader of the Musavat party–Isa Gambar–all but said the vote was invalid–complaining it had been marked by violations.
"Authorities forced members of opposition parties to leave polling stations,” Gambar told reporters.
Asked if there were irregularities–a Western observer said: "Many.”
The opposition has vowed to hold mass demonstrations if it found the election to be fixed. By early evening–about seven trucks of soldiers had arrived outside Musavat headquarters.
They said they were ordered there by the Interior Ministry.
"TAKE FATHER’S PATH”
Earlier–Ilham–flanked by his wife and eldest daughter–cast his vote in the school were he once studied–saying he was confident the Caspian state would vote for stability.
"Azerbaijan needs peace–stability–economic development and integration with the international community. Azerbaijan must not return to the days of war–civil war–of chaos–anarchy,” Ilham–41–told reporters after receiving bouquets of flowers.
"I must say that how Azeri citizens received me during the election campaign gave me great confidence that the people of Azerbaijan have made their choice,” he said. Haydar Aliyev–80–the dominant force in the ex-Soviet state since the late 1960s–is being treated in a US hospital for heart and kidney problems. He still has huge personal standing and has dominated the campaign.
Ilham needs 50 percent plus one vote to win outright. He has urged Azeris to back him as the guarantor of his father’s legacy or face a return to the chaos that threatened the country 10 years ago. In 1993–the nationalist government–split by infighting and facing the loss of the Mountainous Karabagh territory to ethnic Armenian fighters–asked the elder Aliyev–an Azeri communist party chief in Soviet times–to take power.
Aliyev junior became prime minister in August after a constitutional change engineered by his father last year. This left him in an unassailable position after Aliyev senior withdrew from the race. The opposition forecast an Aliyev win–for other reasons.
"They (the voters) are scared of losing their jobs–they are scared of being arrested,” said Azeri singer Flora Kerimova–a Musavat member. "It will all end in blood.”
Heckled by Aliyev’s supporters–she was asked to leave the polling station.