The president of the oil-rich Caspian Sea nation of Azerbaijan raced Wednesday toward a landslide win that would add seven more years to his 15-year tenure.
The national elections commission said that with 65 percent of the ballots counted, President Ilham Aliyev had received 86 percent of the vote in an early presidential election.
Leading opposition parties boycotted the race, leaving seven token challengers.
The National Council of Democratic Forces, an opposition group, claimed late Wednesday that only about 15 percent of the electorate voted, while Azerbaijan’s elections commission reported the turnout at nearly 75 percent.
In a statement, the opposition group also alleged widespread violations including people voting multiple times.
Aliyev, 56, has led Azerbaijan since 2003. He succeeded his father, Geidar Aliyev, who ruled Azerbaijan first as Communist Party boss and then as a post-Soviet president for the greater part of three decades.
Like his father before him, the son has cast himself as a custodian of stability, an image that resonates with many in a nation where memories of the chaos and turmoil that accompanied the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union are still fresh.
Since Aliyev won the last election in 2013, Azerbaijan’s constitution has been amended to extend the presidential term from five to seven years. Aliyev’s critics denounced the 2016 plebiscite as effectively cementing a dynastic rule.
Aliyev has allied the majority Shia Muslim nation of almost 10 million with the West, helping to protect its energy and security interests and to counterbalance Russia’s influence in the strategic Caspian region.
At the same time, his government has long faced criticism in the West for alleged human rights abuses and suppression of dissent.
The presidential election originally was scheduled for the fall. Officials said it was moved to April because the country would be busy with various high-profile events at the end of 2018.