Azerbaijan’s two-term President Ilham Aliyev appeared to be cruising to an easy re-election for a third five-year term on Wednesday in a vote that lacked intrigue but was marked by Russia’s stepped up efforts to keep the oil-rich former Soviet republic in its orbit.

Mr. Aliyev headed for a landslide victory, with an exit poll giving him nearly 84 per cent of the votes in a race against nine candidates. His main rival, historian Jamil Hasanli, is trailing behind with about eight percent. If confirmed by official returns to be announced on Thursday Mr. Aliyev’s tally would be in line with a voting pattern in many other former Soviet states with authoritarian regimes.

Mr. Aliyev, who inherited his post from his father, Heidar Aliyev, 10 years ago, had garnered almost 80 per cent of the vote in 2003 and close to 89 per cent in 2008.

Rigging charge

As in the earlier elections, human rights groups have accused the authorities of suppressing the opposition and rigging the vote.

The only presidential candidate who could credibly challenge the incumbent, Oscar-winning screenwriter Rustam Ibragimbekov, fielded by a coalition of opposition parties and supported by wealthy Russia-based Azerbaijani businessmen, was refused registration for holding joint Russian citizenship.

This happened because Russian authorities dragged their feet over granting Mr Ibragimbekov’s request to revoke his Russian passport after Russia’s President Vladimir Putin paid a visit to Azerbaijan in mid-August.

The visit was designed to stop Mr. Aliyev’s drift towards the West as Azerbaijan emerged as a major source of Caspian oil for Europe and a promising transit route for Central Asian hydrocarbons to Western markets.

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