Aliyev Jr. Confident of Election Win

APAn Azeri woman casting her ballot in Baku in the presidential election on Wednesday.
BAKU, Azerbaijan -- The son of Azerbaijan's ailing leader Heidar Aliyev said he was confident of being voted president of the oil-rich country on Wednesday, creating the first political dynasty in the former Soviet Union.

As counting ran into the night, Ilham Aliyev was heavily favored to win due to his father's strategy of passing the reins of power to his son in a country seen by many as key to developing an alternative to the Gulf as a source of crude oil.

But both Ilham's supporters and his main opposition rival were quick to say they had won the poll on the basis of exit polls, each conducted by one of the two camps.

Police scuffled with hundreds of opposition supporters, who massed in front of the headquarters of opposition standard-bearer Isa Gambar to celebrate what he said was his victory.

Riot police stood in cordons outside the building. One officer was led away with blood pouring from his face, but there were no serious clashes.

Victory for Ilham would further entrench the Aliyev clan in the country where his father Heidar Aliyev, now in a U.S. hospital, has dominated politics since the late 1960s.

It would also be seen as giving the green light for business as usual for U.S. and other oil companies tapping Azerbaijan's vast resources.

Two hours after polls closed, 69 percent of ballots cast by over 4 million voters had been counted, officials said. They said no complaints of irregularities had been received.

Initial results, based on a tiny fraction of polling stations, pointed in favor of victory for Ilham Aliyev.

"Ilham received enough votes, more than 50 percent, to receive the presidential mandate," Ali Ahmadov, Ilham's executive party secretary, told reporters.

"This is the success of Heidar Aliyev's policies. The success of Ilham Aliyev and the success of our party."

But Gambar said he won more than 60 percent of the vote.

"We will not allow the Aliyev regime to steal our victory again," he said.

The outcome is being watched closely by big regional powers Russia, Turkey and Iran, and by Western states keen to see an oil pipeline prove successful from Baku to the Mediterranean Sea.

The opposition has vowed to hold mass demonstrations if it found the election to be fixed. Asked if there were irregularities during the vote, a Western observer said: "Many."

Earlier, Ilham, flanked by his wife and eldest daughter, cast his vote in the school where he once studied, saying he was confident the country of 8 million would vote for stability.

"Azerbaijan needs peace, stability, economic development and integration with the international community. Azerbaijan must not return to the days of war, civil war, of chaos, anarchy," Ilham, 41, told reporters after receiving bouquets of flowers.

Azeri television said Heidar Aliyev, 80, had voted in the Cleveland hospital where he is being treated for heart and kidney problems. He still has huge personal standing and has dominated the campaign.

Ilham has urged Azeris to back him as the guarantor of his father's legacy or face a return to the chaos that threatened the country 10 years ago.

In 1993, the nationalist government, split by infighting and facing the loss of the Nagorny Karabakh territory to ethnic Armenian fighters, asked the elder Aliyev -- an Azeri Communist Party chief in Soviet times -- to take power.

Aliyev junior became prime minister in August after a constitutional change engineered by his father last year. This left him in an unassailable position after Aliyev senior withdrew from the race.