BAKU (Armradio) — Azerbaijan’s strongman Ilham Aliyev on Monday called a snap presidential vote for April, six months ahead of schedule, as opposition politicians slammed the surprise move, AFP reports.

“Set the date of the election of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan on April 11,” Aliyev ordered in a decree posted on his website without providing an immediate explanation for the move.

The country was initially set to hold the vote on October 17.

Last week, the deputy chair of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party, Ali Akhmedov, said that Aliyev planned to run for a fourth consecutive term.

The decision sparked strong criticism from opposition parties.

“The Aliyevs have been in power for some 45 years already and that contradicts the principles of a democratic republic,” the leader of the opposition Popular Front party, Ali Kerimli, told AFP.

The veteran politician said the decision to hold early elections was aimed at shortening the election campaign and “hampering the opposition’s efforts to prevent vote rigging”.

So far, two opposition candidates – Musavat party leader Isa Gambar and the chairman of the Classical Popular Front Party Mirmahmud Miralioglu – have announced they plan to run for president.

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