Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has announced snap presidential elections for April 2017.
The President’s Office issued a decree calling the election on 5 February, shifting the date from 17 October 2018. Aliyev had already announced his intention to run for a fourth term earlier in February.
Aliyev, from the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, has led the country for 15 years. He was first elected in 2003, taking over from his late father Heydar Aliyev, who had ruled the country since independence. He was re-elected in 2008 and 2013.
The official results of the 2013 elections gave Aliyev almost 85% of the vote, but the results have been questioned by a number of observers. The final report from OSCE observation mission reported widespread candidate and voter intimidation, as well as a limited media environment, and arrests and the use of force against journalists and activists.
[Read on OC Media: A government’s fear or bargaining chips — Political prisoners in Azerbaijan]
The announcement comes two years after constitutional amendments were adopted granting the president the power to call early presidential elections and to dissolve parliament.
The amendments also prolonged presidential terms from five to seven years. If elected, Aliyev could remain in office until at least 2025.
The 2016 amendments, which have been criticised by a number of international rights groups, also granted the government more power to restrict the right to assembly where it breached ‘public morals’, and limited property rights.
Aliyev has frequently dismissed criticism of the country’s rights record, claiming it is an attempt to ‘discredit’ Azerbaijan.
Following the constitutional amendments, Aliyev appointed his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, as first Vice President.