Azerbaijan’s Snap Election: Power Consolidation or Democratic Facelift

The frequency of snap elections in Azerbaijan reflects a pattern where major political events are driven more by regime expediency than by adherence to constitutional rules.
Keywords: Elections, Azerbaijan, Political, Pattern, Constitutional, Events, Rules
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The snap presidential election in Azerbaijan, took place on February 7, 2024, has generated controversy. Mazahir Panahov, the head of the Central Election Commission, released the preliminary results of the recent presidential election, revealing a decisive victory for incumbent President Ilham Aliyev. According to Panahov, Aliyev garnered an impressive 92.1% of the vote, with 54.47% of the total ballots counted.

The competition proved to be lopsided, as Aliyev’s closest rival, independent candidate Zahid Oruj, received a mere 2.2% of the votes. The results underscore Aliyev’s strong hold on the electorate, signaling a clear mandate from the voting populace.

A significant 6.5 million people were eligible to cast their votes, including those residing abroad. The voter turnout and the widespread support for Aliyev suggest a substantial endorsement of his leadership.

As the election results unfold, these preliminary figures paint a picture of a commanding victory for President Aliyev, solidifying his position in Azerbaijan’s political landscape. The comprehensive electoral data will likely prompt further analysis of the underlying factors contributing to such a decisive outcome.

Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, sent shockwaves throughout the country by calling for presidential elections in December 2023, a full year ahead of schedule. This unexpected move, made while Aliyev enjoys high popularity after a military victory over Armenia, has thrust him and the upcoming election into the spotlight. 

President Aliyev strategically timed the announcement of the snap election to immediately follow the successful military campaign in Nagorno-Karabakh, capitalizing on a surge in patriotic sentiment and his heightened popularity. This calculated move aimed to frame the election as a validation of his leadership and of  military triumph, potentially swaying voters on an emotional level.

Aliyev’s Strategic Move and Criticisms

Critics have contended that the strategic timing employed prevented public opinion from cooling off or the potential consequences of the conflict from becoming more apparent. This allowed Aliyev to leverage the temporary emotional high to secure his position. By exploiting the nationalist sentiment stemming from the Karabakh victory, Aliyev skillfully positioned himself as the hero within a narrative of national unity and success.

Having linked his leadership to the country’s territorial gain, he aimed to influence voters to associate their national pride with his re-election. Critics have emphasized that this approach marginalized dissenting voices, suppressing critical discourse surrounding the conflict or Aliyev’s rule.

They contended that by riding the wave of nationalism, Aliyev could distract from potential concerns about human rights, democratic processes, or alternative perspectives on the conflict. The decision to hold the election early limited the time for opposition parties to organize and challenge him, stifling meaningful political competition and potentially discouraging participation from credible alternatives. Critics argued that this move further consolidated Aliyev’s control over the political landscape, making it even harder for future challenges to his authority to emerge. They viewed the snap election as a strategic manipulation of public sentiment to cement his grip on power.

Ilham Aliyev, who has been in power since 2003, is seeking his fifth term in office. Despite facing criticism for his autocratic rule and concerns about the state of democracy in Azerbaijan, Aliyev remains unchallenged. 

The exclusion of significant opposition figures from the electoral process and their decision to boycott the election highlighted the lack of genuine political competition and pluralism in Azerbaijan. The absence of prominent opposition voices raised doubts about the fairness and legitimacy of the election. The limited presence of opposition candidates led to skepticism about the extent to which alternative viewpoints were allowed to express themselves.

Western Concerns and Regional Responses

Western governments, particularly in Europe and North America, expressed significant concerns over the democratic deficiencies in Azerbaijan’s recent presidential election, including limited political space for opposition, media restrictions, and the exclusion of various potential candidates. While not rejecting the results outright, there was a consensus among Western entities urging Azerbaijan to address these issues and improve democratic practices. They voiced the need for fair competition, human rights, and freedom of expression. In contrast, some regional actors around Azerbaijan acknowledged the results, often coupling their recognition with diplomatic encouragement for strengthening democratic institutions. The varying reactions highlighted the challenge of balancing geopolitical realities with a commitment to democratic values.

Implications for Azerbaijan-Armenia Peace Talks

The region has been a longstanding area of contention, marked by historical grievances and territorial disputes between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The peace process, which gained momentum with the signing of a ceasefire agreement in 2020, has been a focal point for regional stability and diplomatic efforts.

The outcome of the election, with President Ilham Aliyev securing a strengthened position, holds potential implications for the dynamics of diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The uncertainty stems from the fact that political transitions, especially those consolidating power, often influence a nation’s approach to external affairs, particularly in long-standing conflicts.

Emphasizing President Aliyev’s strengthened position following the election may impact Azerbaijan’s stance in the ongoing peace talks with Armenia. The president’s approach could lean towards assertiveness or caution, depending on the prevailing political and public sentiment in Azerbaijan. Additionally, internal political dynamics might determine the government’s priorities and its commitment to the peace process. A more stable political environment could motivate Azerbaijan to work harder for a sustainable resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, while considerations like nationalism or factional pressures may hinder the government’s ability to make concessions.

Economic Dependency and Political Dynamics Conundrum

Azerbaijan’s economic trajectory, deeply rooted in its reliance on high energy prices, is pivotal in determining the nation’s future stability and political development. As a South Caucasus country blessed with substantial oil and gas reserves, energy exports have long been the backbone of its economy. The impact of fluctuating global energy prices extends beyond economic prosperity, affecting social stability and the political course of the nation. While high energy prices bolster government revenue, offering fiscal capacity for infrastructure and social programs, the associated dependence poses challenges, as revenue volatility impacts fiscal stability. The multifaceted role of high energy prices in political development presents both opportunities and risks. Increased revenue can fuel development projects and economic growth, enhancing political legitimacy, yet reliance on resource exports frequently results in corruption and governance challenges, potentially affecting political stability. The interplay between economic factors and political considerations underscores the need for effective governance and strategic economic diversification to navigate challenges and maintain long-term political stability.

Snap Elections in Azerbaijan: Regime Expediency and Political Control

The frequency of snap elections in Azerbaijan, ostensibly justified by the need for political renewal and calendar streamlining, reflects a pattern where major political events are driven more by regime expediency than by adherence to constitutional rules. The recent announcement is not an isolated occurrence but is rather emblematic of the government’s control over the political narrative and event timing. While solidifying current presidential legitimacy into the next decade, the decision also normalizes the use of presidential prerogative for political agenda-setting. This normalization suggests that, in the future, the government may hold snap elections strategically to maintain control, even if presidential legitimacy is contested.

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Rajan Kumar Mishra

Rajan Kumar Mishra writes about the intersections of public policy, national security, and politics. He has a master's degree in Political Science from Lalit Narayan Mithila University, Darbhanga. His writing delves into the complexities of governance, offering insightful analysis and perspectives on pressing societal issues. Rajan's expertise lies in examining the intricacies of public policy formulation, national security challenges, and the ever-evolving political landscape. Through his compelling articles, he aims to engage readers in informed discussions and contribute to the advancement of knowledge in these critical areas.

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