Alwaght- Azerbaijani people are heading to the polls to cast their ballots in snap parliamentary elections bring renew the country's dissolved 125-member National Assembly.
Polls opened at 08:00 a.m. local time (0400 GMT) on Sunday, with more than 5.3 million people eligible to vote in over 5,500 polling stations across the country.
More than 1,300 candidates from 19 political parties are vying for the country’s 125-seat, single-chamber parliament, the Milli Majlis.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev called the election in December last year nine months before the vote was formally due, with officials from his ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party arguing that the move was “to support the president’s policy on reforms and personnel changes.”
In October, Aliyev had replaced the prime minister and a number of veteran officials within his presidential office and government.
The early elections were boycotted by the opposition, who blames the Azeri president for public discontent over the country’s economic slowdown and accuses him of trying to improve his government’s image by replacing old discredited elites with younger candidates.
“Instead of real change, Aliyev is imitating political reforms by purging from power old members of his team who have long been hated by people,” said Ali Karimli, the leader of the opposition Popular Front party.
Aliyev has been at the helm of the ex-Soviet state since he was first elected in 2003 after the death of his father, Heydar Aliyev, who had held power for a decade.
The oil-rich country has since 2015 been beset by a drop in energy prices and a global economic downturn, also suffering a devaluation in its currency, the manat.
Sunday’s vote is to be monitored by international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Aliyev said his government had taken all necessary measures to ensure fair and transparent elections that comply with Azerbaijan’s laws and international standards.
The initial results of the legislative elections are expected to be announced in the early hours of Monday.