Azeri strongman Ilham Aliyev on Monday ordered the presidential election to be held in April instead of October, according to a short decree posted on his website.
The three-paragraph document offers no explanation for moving the vote that Aliyev is all but certain to win.
Read more: Aliyev appoints wife as First Vice President
The Aliyev political dynasty has wielded enormous political power in Azerbaijan for decades, with Ilham Aliyev's father Heydar first serving as a key KGB general and later as president of the ex-Soviet state. Heydar Aliyev was forced to step down due to health issues in late 2003 and died shortly after with his son took over. Ilham Aliyev has since changed the constitution, allowing himself to run for an unlimited number of terms and has also expanded the period in office from five years to seven.
Opposition leaders slammed the decision to bring the vote forward.
Popular Front Party leader Ali Kerimli said the move was aimed at shortening the campaign and "hampering the opposition's efforts to prevent vote rigging."
"The Aliyevs have been in power for some 45 years already and that contradicts the principles of a democratic republic," he told the AFP news agency.
Aliyeva's wife as first vice president
Azerbaijan economy has been growing in recent years thanks to the nation's rich oil and gas reserves.
Aliyev has won two elections since taking over as president, but the opposition claims that the votes in 2008 and 2013 were rigged. Many observers believe the president is planning to ultimately hand over power to his children. These fears were fanned by Aliyev's decision to appoint his wife Mehriban Aliyeva as his first vice president last year.
Human rights activists also blame Aliyav for the arrests and intimidation of political opponents and journalists.
Two opposition leaders have so far announced they would run against Aliyev.
dj/rt (AFP, AP, Interfax)