Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s decree to set the date of a snap presidential election on April 11, 2018, has become a kind of “information bomb.” The Central Election Commission of Azerbaijan has been charged to organize and conduct the presidential election in compliance with the Election Code. The regular presidential election was supposed to be held in October of 2018.
The president’s aide for public and political affairs Ali Hasanov has already called the nation to support the incumbent president at the snap election.
Although the president’s decision was unexpected, some rumors about it had been spread yet long ago. Yet in October 2016, Aliyev had to refute rumors about a snap presidential election. “We have no plans to change the election date. I am informed of the rumors inside and outside Azerbaijan. There are no such plans. I see no need for that,” Aliyev said in an interview with RIA Novosti then. It appears that the plans have changed now. Why?
REAL Movement Executive Secretary Natig Jafarli says with regret that the authorities provide no information about the reasons why the president announced the snap election. Jafarli assumes there might be several reasons.
“For instance, a technical one. This year, the president will be elected for seven years, which means that the next election should have been held in October of 2025. Then, a month later, in November - the parliamentary elections would take place. It turns out that two election campaigns would be held in the country simultaneously. They had to change the date of either presidential or parliamentary elections. Actually, they have chosen the presidential one. I repeat, this is a purely technical issue, but not the major reason,” he told EADaily.
Jafarli sees many political and economic factors behind that decision: “On March 18, a presidential election will be held in Russia and the world powers, European organizations, will be focusing on that event, especially considering the relations between Russia and the West. By the way, Moscow, unlike Baku, has not refused to receive international observers. Hence, the Azerbaijani presidential election will be overshadowed by the presidential election in Russia. So, our government will get an opportunity to hold ‘smooth’ elections.”
Natig Jafarli pointed at duplicating institutions in the government in Azerbaijan. Constitutional amendments have resulted in establishment of an institution of vice presidents. However, besides the first vice president (the first lady of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyeva – editor’s note), the positions of other vice presidents are vacant. “The existence of the Cabinet of Ministers and vice presidents at the same time is a very contradictory phenomenon. When vice presidents in charge of various sectors of the economy are appointed, the Cabinet of Ministers will become useless. I think, after the election, this ‘parallel’ system will be removed,” the expert says.
As for economic issues, last year Azerbaijan has finally recovered from shocks, as oil price rose by 35%, positive dynamics was registered in economy and forex reserves began to grow.
“On such a positive wave, it is not hard to hold elections. However, no one can guarantee that oil prices will remain as high as they are now. Besides, I think they will start falling again as early as this spring. This will lead to economic problems that do not exist so far. After the April elections, they will not have to care for keeping the manat rate or waging monetary policy. Everyone in Azerbaijan was sure that before the election, the rate of manat against dollar will be left unchanged. This is true, but just before April 11. Afterwards, the government will get a free hand,” Jafarli says.
Azerbaijani political analyst Ilgar Velizade, in turn, believes that the president’s decree on snap election resembles the state of affairs in the Azerbaijani public and there was no sense in postponing the elections.
“Yeni Azerbaijan ruling party has recently decided upon its candidate – it is the incumbent president. They have put an end to speculations on this issue. The team will not be reformed and the first roles will not be changed, unlike the reports by some non-governmental mass media and scenarios of some foreign players,” Velizade says talking to EADaily.
Another Azerbaijani expert Zardusht Alizadeh addressed the “synchronization” of the presidential elections in Azerbaijan and Russia. “I can just guess what is behind the Azerbaijani president’s decree to set snap presidential election. The first reason is the presidential election in Russia. Russia and Azerbaijan are connected much more closely than it might seem. I do not know who will be elected in Russia: Vladimir Putin or Pavel Grudinin. If Grudinin is elected, I will think that there is a ‘deep state’ and a group of patriots in Russia. Back to Azerbaijan, I’d like to reiterate that in my opinion Ilham Aliyev seeks to synchronize the election processes in Russia and Azerbaijan,” Alizadeh says.
The second thing Zardusht Alizadeh pointed at is the constitutional referendum and introduction of the institute of vice presidents. “I think Ilham Aliyev is well informed that certain plots are being engineered against him at top echelons of power. The stolen money is a pain in the neck of many shortsighted people who could work to create a well-organized team and set an ultimatum at some moment. Therefore, the referendum and appointment of Mehriban Aliyeva as first vice president was a preventive step. The next step was announcement of snap election.”
According to Alizadeh, this reduces the time lag for political rivals inside the ruling clan. “I think, Ilham Aliyev takes steps to remove threats to his power. I repeat, these are just my assumptions,” Alizadeh says.