President Ilham Aliyev has announced that Azerbaijan will hold snap presidential elections on 7 February 2024, a year before his fourth term as president ends.
Aliyev has served as Azerbaijan’s president since October 2003.
In 2009, a public referendum removed a limit on the number of terms that a president could serve. Another referendum held in 2016 extended the presidential terms to seven years.
The 2016 referendum also created the office of vice president, a position that has been held by Aliyev’s wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, since 2017.
The last presidential elections were held in 2018, with Aliyev officially receiving 86% of the vote. The elections were boycotted by Azerbaijan’s major opposition parties. Both local and international election monitors have for years found elections in Azerbaijan to be neither free nor fair.
No reason has yet been provided for the decision to hold early presidential elections next February.
Aliyev’s decree came three months after Azerbaijan launched an offensive against Nagorno-Karabakh. After the region surrendered to Azerbaijan, its Armenian population fled en masse.
It also comes as an apparent crackdown on independent media outlets is underway.
Two weeks ago, the authorities raided the offices of AbzasMedia, one of the last independent media organisations continuing to operate from within the country, and arrested their upper management and staff on charges of smuggling foreign currency into Azerbaijan. The founder of Kanal 13, an online TV station, and one of the channel’s anchors, were arrested soon after.
[Read on OC Media: Editorial | Ilham Aliyev’s attempt to eradicate the free press cannot succeed]
Ali Karimli, chair of the opposition Popular Front Party, suggested that the announcement was connected both to Aliyev’s intention to ‘rig’ his reelection, and to Azerbaijan’s increasingly close ties in Russia.
‘Now it becomes clear why illegal arrests have occupied the country’s agenda in recent months [and] why the country’s relations with international organisations such as the USA, EU, and OSCE have been artificially strained in recent months’, wrote Karimli.
He added that the ‘secretive’ and unexpected nature of the decision suggested that Azerbaijan’s government was afraid of political competition despite the oppression of opposition groups and independent media.
Karimli also suggested that Aliyev’s announcement of the snap elections was connected to the likelihood of Russia facing a military defeat in the near future.
‘Ilham Aliyev is trying to extend his term of office through uncompetitive and fake elections while Putin's regime is still standing.’
Azer Gasimli, an independent politician and director of the Baku-based Institute of Political Management, similarly connected the decision to Aliyev’s ‘choice in favour of Russia’. However, he suggested that the decision to hold the elections a year early primarily indicated Aliyev’s concerns regarding how the year ahead would take shape.
‘This year, economic growth was very low in the CIS countries. The economic gap and, as a result, social tension in the country is growing. The government could not turn the Nagorno-Karabakh victory into development’, wrote Gasimli.
‘The Aliyev regime no longer has any foreign policy cards left to use domestically. The Karabakh issue was the last card they used. One of the main issues is that the Russian military contingent will not leave our country’s territory in 2025. This will also weaken the legitimacy of the government’, wrote Gasimli.
Gasimli added that he ‘[did] not exclude’ further conflict on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border.
‘Considering the repression of recent months and what I mentioned above, tensions across the country will rise which means new threats to power!’