BAKU - Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on Thursday called snap presidential elections in February, in a move expected to extend the decades-long authoritarian rule of his family. Aliyev’s popularity is soaring after his military recaptured the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region from Armenian separatists in a lightning offensive in September. A decree published by the presidency ordered officials to hold a “snap election” on February 7 next year. Elections had previously been scheduled for 2025. A state-run pollster recently said 75 percent of the population approve of Aliyev’s handling of the Karabakh conflict, which saw the mass exodus of ethnic Armenians living in the long-disputed mountainous territory. “Aliyev’s approval ratings had always been high, and they skyrocketed after the victorious military operation in Karabakh in September,” independent political analyst Farhad Mamedov told AFP. “He is at the peak of his popularity.” Aliyev sent troops to Karabakh on September 19 and after just one day of fighting Armenian separatist forces that had controlled the disputed region for three decades laid down arms and agreed to reintegrate with Baku.