Azerbaijan’s parliamentary election has become embroiled in allegations of fraud.
Soon after voting ended, the main opposition bloc cried foul and demanded the results be cancelled.
The poll is seen as a key test of democracy in the ex-Soviet state. Previous polls have been marred by reports of widespread irregularities.
The ruling New Azerbaijan party of president Ilham Aliev is expected to win a comfortable majority. He insists that all the candidates have been treated equally.
The opposition says nothing could be further from the truth. It has accused the regime of harassing, intimidating and arresting its activists.
One of its main leaders Isa Gambar has hinted that peaceful protests are a likely response to the election’s outcome. Security forces say they will crack down hard on any disturbances.
The tensions have raised the prospect of a Ukraine-style “Orange Revolution,” although unlike the cases of Ukraine and Georgia western powers are keeping their distance from the Azeri opposition.
They see Aliev as a guarantor of stability in a region wracked by ethnic conflicts such as the Azeri-Armenian confrontation over Nagorno-Karabagh.
The regime has also been at the forefront of developing the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline that will deliver Caspian oil to world markets.
For these reasons, the West is seen as trying to strike a balance between favouring political continuity and criticising Aliev’s record on democracy and human rights.