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Opposition boycotts Azerbaijan election

Azerbaijan's ruling party won an outright majority in Sunday's election, cementing President Ilham Aliyev's hold on power. But international observers had refused to monitor the vote due to restrictions by authorities.

Elections were held Sunday in oil-rich Azerbaijan for the former Soviet republic's parliament. But international observers stayed away as

most opposition parties protested the elections as a farce.

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev's ruling Yeni Azerbaijan (New Azerbaijan) claimed victory in a result that was hardly surprising given the restrictive political climate.

"According to our estimations, Yeni Azerbaijan candidates have been elected ... Exit poll results make us think that Yeni Azerbaijan will have a majority in a new parliament again," the party's executive secretary, Ali Akhmedov, told reporters.

The party had 71 out of 125 seats in the previous parliament, which is elected every five years.

"I think that we'll get not less than 70 seats in a new parliament," Akhmedov said.

The OSCE had refused to monitor the vote after Azerbaijan demanded that it sharply cut the number of observers it fields. It marks the first time since Azerbaijan's post-Soviet independence that the OSCE has not monitored an election in the country.

Ali Kerimli, the leader of Azerbaijan's Popular Front, said his party would not take part because "the country lacks a proper political environment and legal base for conducting a democratic vote."

Fellow opposition party Musavat had also pulled out of the contest. It made its announcement just four days before the vote, after only 24 of the 73 candidates nominated by the opposition party had been allowed to run by authorities.

"We have demanded that the authorities create democratic conditions and equal opportunities for all political forces," Musavat party leader Arif Hajili said.

Election authorities had said it would be too late to take Musavat off the ballot. Some Musavat candidates stayed on the ballot despite the party leadership's decision.

International rights groups have accused Azerbaijani authorities of limiting dissent.

Azerbaijan President Iham Aliyev

Ilham Aliyev (pictured) inherited the country's leadership following the death of his father.

Aliyev family dynasty

Aliyev inherited leadership of the country following the 2003 death of his father, a former KGB general.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International have decried the authorities' systematic attacks on opponents in the lead-up to the election.

"At least 20 people are currently imprisoned in the country merely for having challenged the government's policies," London-based Amnesty said in a statement.

Aliyev secured a third consecutive term in polls in 2013, extending his family's decades-long grip on power in the energy-rich Caspian Sea nation of 9.5 million people.

The predominately Muslim country in the South Caucasus lies between Iran and Russia and is a

major energy exporter to European countries

.

Central Election Commission chief Mazahir Panahov said his agency had not observed any significant flaws during Sunday's ballot. All exit polling, conducted by private local and foreign companies, had indicated a comfortable victory for the ruling party.

jar/jm (AFP, Reuters)

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