What’s behind Azerbaijan’s snap elections

Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa

On February 6, Ksenia Sobchak, Russia’s notorious opposition presidential election candidate, spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, likening the upcoming elections in Russia to a casino. “Like in a casino, the casino always wins. In Russia, Putin always wins”, said Sobchak.

While the world is glued to Russia’s electoral extravaganza, Azerbaijan, a small post-Soviet state to its south, is about to have a show of its own. On February 5, the country’s incumbent president Ilham Aliyev has called for snap presidential elections, moving them up from October to April 11.

Aliyev has succeeded his late father Heydar Aliyev (former KGB general and Azerbaijan’s president in 1993-2003) in 2003 presidential elections, which international watchdogs described as not free. After being re-elected in 2008 in what independent observers called an election lacking fundamental freedom standards, in 2009 Aliyev called for a referendum that allowed him to be elected more than twice. Another re-election in 2013 was followed by a new referendum in 2016, which has extended the presidential term to seven years and has overall increased president’s powers.

Although the outcome of these snap elections, boycotted by all three major opposition parties, is obvious, the news about them took Azerbaijani public by surprise. Activists flooded social media platforms with questions. Why was this decision made and signed as a decree by the president Aliyev? Was this to further tighten the firm authoritarian grip? Or to avoid a possible public uprising given tough economic conditions?

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