Azerbaijan's parliamentary election is seen as next step by President Ilham Aliyev to consolidate power and create a younger, more dynamic parliament to push forward economic reforms.

A voter casts his ballot at a polling station during a snap parliamentary election in Baku.
A voter casts his ballot at a polling station during a snap parliamentary election in Baku. (Reuters)

Voters in Azerbaijan were choosing a new parliament on Sunday in an early election after a short and low-key campaign.

President Ilham Aliyev, in power since 2003, called the election in early December after the parliament appealed to be dissolved in order to elect a new body that could work more closely with the president on reforms in the oil-rich country.

Aliyev's New Azerbaijan Party held 65 of the 125 seats in the old parliament, short of the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution.

Nineteen political parties have fielded candidates but most of the more than 1,600 people running are self-nominated, according to the election observation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Video footage showed a smiling Aliyev and his family voting at a polling station in the capital Baku.

Vafa Alekperova, a 43-year-old schoolteacher, said she voted for a candidate of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party.

"I trust the party and my hopes for a better future are tied to it," she said.

At the same polling station in Baku, 58-year-old taxi driver Ilgar Gasymov said he "voted for an opposition candidate because only the opposition cares about ordinary people's problems".

Polls opened at 8.00 am (0400GMT) local time and are set to close at 7.00 pm (1500 GMT).

Sixth election since independence

The official campaigning period began just three weeks ago in the former Soviet republic of 10 million people on the Caspian Sea.

Over 5.3 million are registered to vote and choose 125 members of the Milli Majlis, or National Assembly.

Sunday's ballot is being monitored by international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Over 130 international media outlets from 47 countries are covering the snap election, and over 77,000 local and 883 foreign observers have been accredited to monitor the polls.

The country boasts some 5,500 polling stations nationwide, with about 1,000 equipped with a special web-camera system making them viewable on the website of the Central Election Commission.

These are Azerbaijan’s sixth parliamentary polls since the country regained its independence in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Aliyev billed to win

Highly dependent on energy exports, the country has since 2015 been hit by a drop in energy prices and the global economic downturn, and has sharply devalued its currency, the manat.

Some critics say that Aliyev, 58, seeks to address growing public discontent over an economic slowdown and to improve his government's image by holding early elections and replacing discredited old elites with younger technocrats.

The opposition accuses the government of limiting their ability to campaign and several parties are boycotting the vote.

Aliyev's party, which faces a little challenge from the embattled opposition, is expected to retain its majority in the legislature.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies