Recently, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev announced the holding of extraordinary presidential elections. I would like to remind that on 31 October this year it was exactly 20 years that he has been ruling the country. In the article we will consider the possible reasons for the decision on snap elections.
On 7 December Ilham Aliyev announced that the snap presidential election will be held in two months on 7 February 2024. Initially, the elections were supposed to be held in April 2025. In general, this practice is not new: previous presidential and parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan were also held early. The upcoming snap elections could be called for the following reasons.
Generally, such procedures are aimed at strengthening internal legitimacy, consolidation of society and the state apparatus in preparation for crisis situations or epochal decisions. Such events can be either the conclusion of a peace treaty with Armenia or a new phase of war.
Azerbaijan got everything it wanted from Armenia without a peace treaty: Nagorno-Karabakh, recognition of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over “enclaves”, a promise to open communications and to settle more than 100,000 Azerbaijanis in Armenia. In this sense, there is no need for a peace treaty for Baku. However, the last concessions as well as new agreements can be approved through a common final document. In this sense, the treaty would include mutual recognition of Armenia’s territorial integrity, readiness to unblock communications, etc. Such agreements do not fit into the expansionist discourse of “Western Azerbaijan” disseminated by official propaganda. That is, the peace treaty may be perceived by Azerbaijani society as a concession against the backdrop of continued successes.
On the other hand, Aliyev may need a mandate for a new war. The first historical goal of capturing Nagorno-Karabakh has been temporarily achieved. Today, the necessary preparatory information work for “return to Western Zangezur” and “return to Western Azerbaijan” is already underway. The new war implies new big goals that will unite society around President Aliyev. The myth of “West Azerbaijan” will make it possible to continue to justify the low standard of living in the country, political repression and the preservation of the Aliyev family regime.
The coming year 2024 will more clearly outline the contours of the new world order. Key events in the main international centres of power will take place in the same year: presidential elections in Russia, presidential elections in the US and EU elections. The most unpredictable is the outcome of the elections in Washington and Brussels. For example, the new EU elite may adjust its foreign policy course with regard to involvement in the Armenian-Azerbaijani settlement process, reducing its interest and involvement. And the new leadership in the U.S. may adopt a course of refusing to actively engage in conflicts on faraway frontiers and focus on its “backyard”.
In light of possible global geopolitical shifts, it is important for Aliyev to have a strong position. In this sense, the euphoria of victory in Nagorno-Karabakh could pass by 2025 and domestic socio-political problems would come to the centre stage, such as the continued enrichment of the ruling clan against the backdrop of 600,000 poor people, and investment in Nagorno-Karabakh against the fact that living standards in the country’s regions are low. Therefore, it is important for the ruling elite to guarantee a stable position for the coming years, as long as there is an opportunity to do so.
Suddenness as new opportunities
The unexpected announcement of snap elections deprives the opposition in the country of even minimal chances: it is impossible in theory to prepare for two months, and even more so to rock the situation in the country after the next falsifications. At the same time, the loyal state apparatus, as well as the preservation of euphoria among the population guarantee another victory of 90%. The votes of Azerbaijanis from occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, where Aliyev will receive almost 100% support, will be historic. All this is important from the point of view of strengthening the national narrative constructed by Aliyev.
Moreover, the announcement of snap elections is a legitimate basis for delaying the peace process. Aliyev can argue that he is occupied with internal processes and cannot allow himself to sign a peace treaty. Thus, he will gain at least three months. After the elections in Azerbaijan, Russia and the EU will already be in a pre-election state. Such a transitional condition will allow Aliyev to hold on to the imposed status quo, which is based on Azerbaijan’s interests.
Dr. Sergei Melkonian, APRI Armenia Research Fellow