Ilham Aliyev. tass. April 11, 2018

Ilham Aliyev. tass. April 11, 2018

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev announced on 6th December that early Presidential elections would be held on 7th February next. This decision stunned a society that had been waiting for the announcement of a referendum on constitutional amendments to deal with the new realities, including the resolution of the Karabakh problem, changes to the internal administrative borders, the system of governance of the executive branch, the transition to a proportional system of Parliamentary formation, the enhancement of the status of a government elected by a Parliamentary majority, and even the transition to a Parliamentary system of government.      

In fact, the symptoms of the Presidential election were already evident when the regime launched a massive political and ideological attack on Western institutions and civil society activists. This scenario preceded all Presidential elections and the cliché remained unchanged this time, except for the characters involved and the contemporary agenda linked to the post-conflict Karabakh issue. For instance, on the eve of the 2018 elections, at the government meeting on 7 October 2017, dedicated to the results of socio-economic development in the nine months of the outgoing year, Aliyev in the introductory part of the meeting attacked the West in a harsh manner, presenting a whole list of allegations against it, including double standards in relation to Azerbaijan, the Islamic world, Arab refugees and so on. The propagandistic tone set in motion extended to the April 2018 elections.

A reasonable question arises: Why did Aliyev preempt the referendum and call early Parliamentary elections?

Outlook-2018

On the eve of the first snap elections of 2018, in the article  Aliyev Outpaces Events, we tried to answer the questions that led the President to make a decision on snap elections:

The date of snap elections can be dictated mainly by the fact that for the first time in the entire period of Ilham Aliyev's rule (since 2003), elections are being held in conditions of economic, yes, and systemic crisis in general, which creates certain risks for the government, which is trying to hold elections without special excesses and the creation of additional problems. The snap elections leave little or no time to maneuver for the traditional opposition, for domestic opponents and for the West, which over the past year has put pressure on the regime.

The advantages for the President are as follows:

1. The discontent of a section of the electorate does not have the time and opportunity to develop into any kind of resistance movement, and in general the electorate will be amorphous with regard to what is happening.

2. The opposition in this situation has very little time to consolidate and shake up the situation. In practice, it will not be able to put up a decisive fight against Aliyev. They may even boycott the elections, which suits Aliyev and creates a complete atmosphere of non-alternativeness.

3 .The internal contradictions, which have heated up after the nomination of the First Lady to the newly created post of First Vice-President, will not have time to develop and will be successfully neutralized.

4. Western institutions will not have time to develop a unified and efficient approach to elections, their assessment and control.

As a matter of fact, Aliyev is favored to be re-elected this time for a seven-year term, which he introduced as a result of a referendum in the autumn of 2016. (The referendum on changes to the constitution set the legislative framework for accelerating the adoption and implementation of election decisions, as well as introducing structural changes to the supreme power system, introducing the institution of the vice-presidency, which led to an even greater concentration of power in the hands of the Aliyev family. The changes gave the President the authority to call elections on any date. Such a decision could be announced immediately after the Referendum, and based on the extension of the presidential term of office to 7 years, so its adoption could be accelerated to 2020. Adoption of such a decision is dependent entirely on the desire, interest and even mood of the President).

Added to this can be the major Karabakh factor, which since the collapse of the USSR has constantly influenced the internal political life of the country and, in particular, became a catalyst for instability.

Despite the fact that there is a legal basis for early elections in the legislation, the authorities did not logically and reasonably explain their political reasons. Although in 2018 the authorities at least tried to justify the need for early elections in some way. The official reasons for postponing the elections were linked to the 100th anniversary of the Republic, a humanitarian forum.

Outlook-2023

It seems that tactical stability is important for the President. If the Presidential elections were to be held after the referendum (which was the most expected) and after the Parliamentary and administrative system had been restructured and the conflict with Armenia remained still unresolved, there would be some risks. These things happen.

Another thing is that the provisional extension of the President's powers for the next seven years allows for consistent and uninterrupted management and a high level of control over the situation. The very fact of holding early elections is already a sign of the significant events we have to live through.   

It is worth recalling that the previous early elections-2018-were also preceded by early Parliamentary elections-2020, which led to a noticeable renewal of the deputy corps as well as the executive branch, and the formation of a new generation of high-ranking officials and servants of the people. And secondly, this early presidential term was marked by the second Karabakh war, complex negotiations with external partners and the promotion of significant international projects, including the creation of new alliances, transport and energy projects.   

It has to be kept in mind that, unlike the current situation, the 2016 referendum preceded the early Presidential and Parliamentary elections. But then the referendum laid the foundations for strengthening the Presidential power. A number of innovations were introduced, the most important of which were the removal of the two-term limit for the Presidential elections, the extension of the Presidential term from 5 to 7 years, and the introduction of the Vice-Presidency, which ensures the operational succession of power in case of force majeure. In the years that followed, we witnessed a rising concentration of power in the hands of the President, who became absolute, which not without reason led to the term "neo-monarchy" being used in political circles.

Add that this policy was justified from the point of view of the complete replacement of the old team inherited from Heydar Aliyev's period, the mobilization of forces and means that made it possible to ensure the centralized administration of the country in conditions of undeclared war and, as a result, the restoration of the territorial integrity of the country after 30 years of occupation.   

The post-war concentration of power has its disadvantages, caused by the low level of initiative of the team, including the executive and the Parliament. First, the established system is designed for unconditional execution, which is an extensive form that is not adapted to reforms. Second, the constant tension in the "power-society" coordinate system creates risks in the absence of an external threat related to the former Karabakh conflict, which to some extent consolidated the society, which still feels itself in the space of wartime. The pluses that can move Aliyev to reforms can be called the formation of power from people clearly aligned with his wishes and image. And redistribution, the delegation of a number of powers to the renewed team, can hardly pose a threat to his personal power, as happened with the oligarchic team he inherited in 2003.       

It is to remind that that the system of redistribution of powers between the President, Parliament and government allows for greater mobility. The expansion of the powers of the Parliament and the government under its control by the Presidency and the Parliamentary majority represented by the ruling “Yeni Azerbaijan” Party and its satellites, on the one hand, provides stability and, on the other hand, creates conditions for intra-command competition, which ensures the dynamics of the movement, including reforms aimed at modernizing the system on the one hand and strengthening Aliyev's political system on the other.

This is a kind of Surkovian "sovereign democracy" system, built within the regime, less subject to external influences and internal contradictions, and therefore more predictable in its management.

It stands to mention that there will be a number of important events next year after the Presidential elections.  Aliyev is not holding elections for the sake of elections. He is pursuing a strategy of political symbiosis: modernization and building the resilience of the system for years to come.

What about the West? 

As the article Aliyev hints on early elections (8 October 2016) suggests, this isolationist policy by Aliyev, strange as it may seem at first glance, finds understanding in the otherwise camp of international democracy, which only in a soft and formal form expresses its duty surprise at the undemocratic nature of the process, but no more than that. This was particularly evident on the eve of and after the last referendum, when it was suggested that this event would open the way to major structural and political-economic changes agreed upon in the West. (This is also evidenced by the fact that the intense pressure on Aliyev from the US and its allies to reform the system ceased immediately after the announcement of the 18 July referendum on constitutional amendments to increase the powers of the Presidency).

This behavior will undoubtedly continue in the forthcoming Presidential elections, and the electoral process itself will become virtually a technical procedure, rather than a political contest between the various factions of the government and the opposition.

Despite his anti-Western rhetoric and suppression of opposition voices, Aliyev's Presidency has suited the West. During his rule, he has significantly strengthened economic ties with Europe by supporting strategic energy, pipeline and transport projects of the European Union, making the West as Azerbaijan's main economic partner. Given that the energy sector is Azerbaijan's basic industry, it is not difficult to see where exactly Azerbaijan has already integrated all of Aliyev's anti-Western rhetoric.

 

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