Azerbaijan's unexpected step: early elections, regional diplomacy and political intrigues

In an unexpected turn of events, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev announced early presidential elections scheduled for February 7, 2024. The decree, signed on December 7, sparked speculation about the motives behind this unexpected decision.

Simultaneously with the announcement of the elections, there was a breakthrough in relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Both countries announced the direct release of military personnel without the involvement of intermediaries. Moreover, the statements of the Armenian side suggested the possibility of concluding a peace agreement between the two countries within 5-10 days.

These events followed an important meeting between US Assistant Secretary of State James O. Bryan and President Ilham Aliyev during the former's visit to the region. The timing of these diplomatic moves raises questions about the relationship between these events and their potential impact on the geopolitical landscape.

In an interview with ASTNA, political commentator Arastun Orujlu delves into the complex dynamics associated with these recent events, reflecting on whether President Aliyev's decision to call early elections is a strategic step aimed at gaining broad public support, or whether it is influenced by a select group of political opportunists who may not coincide with the will of the people.

As Azerbaijan stands at a crossroads, the nation is preparing for a period of increased political activity and intrigue. The upcoming elections and related diplomatic events are ready to shape the trajectory of Azerbaijan's policy, and the world is closely watching to decipher the motives behind these bold steps.

* * *

Question: Was there a need to hold early presidential elections?

Answer: Although your question seems simple at first glance, it actually requires a detailed answer. If we consider the issue from the point of view of chronology, then there was no need for this step. However, when analyzing what has been happening in recent years and predicting the near future both in the country and around it, a completely different picture opens up. Although sometimes people are skeptical about this, the 44-day war and its consequences have changed not only the geopolitical realities of the region, but also the Azerbaijani society. So far, the second is perhaps not so noticeable, and this is because dialectical dynamics are in accordance with the laws of sociology. This also applies to the rate at which changes occur. I will try to demonstrate this with a simple example. The consequences of the Second Karabakh War caused people to have two feelings. On the one hand, they were very happy about the victory, and on the other, the end result caused many questions, and sometimes hesitation and disappointment. Because the victory was not complete. But when a complete victory was achieved 3 years later, Azerbaijani society generally reacted rather coolly to this. And this was a sign of a change in society over the past three years, approaches, attitudes to the events taking place. Because the expectations in society after the victory not only did not come true, but I would even say that the opposite happened. The socio-economic situation has worsened, disenfranchisement and injustice have intensified, corruption has acquired a wider scope, lawlessness has become almost the rule, official arbitrariness in some cases has turned, in the truest sense of the word, into a form of outrage. This list can be continued, but what is happening in society in one word: the victorious people, instead of the attitude they deserve, faced the complete opposite. This is the path that leads to a sociological crisis. Because along with all this, the "victory loan" received by the government is rapidly running out. Comparing the listed internal factors with external influences, we see that the risks are increasing. In this situation, the government has two ways: 1. To go for reforms, but this requires both time, strategy, and a team of reformers, and they are on the verge of disappearing; 2. The government must strengthen its position at the expense of its available resources, and one of the ways is to extend the term of its legitimacy. Moreover, this must be done before the crisis reaches its climax.

Question: Why were these elections announced suddenly? The presidential election was 15 months away. What could have forced the authorities to decide on such hasty elections two months before the start?

Answer: Although the elections were announced suddenly, I would not say that they were not prepared for them. Of course, there were certain calculations, but since they were carried out in an extremely narrow circle, this created the effect of a sudden announcement of elections, and in fact it was so for the society.  One of the goals of such a sudden announcement of elections could be to put everyone in front of the fact. In other words, in order to achieve the effect of confusion in the opponent's camp, and it worked. And the opponents' camp is wider than in previous years. True, it is not organized, but there is ground for its concentration and organization. There is soil, but there is no time. Here I will make a footnote - the opponents' camp does not consist exclusively of a motley opposition that cannot find a common language with each other, a defeated civil society and separate groups of socio-political activists operating without any system. Today, in this camp, the bureaucracy is an oligarchy that has lost its position in power and one that understands the inevitability of this loss, and they, unlike the first, have resources.  Therefore, it is clear that the elections were announced in such a way as to prevent the creation of an alliance of these two groups and the concentration of resources. Also, there are external factors that caused this, and they accelerated the process to some extent. Now Azerbaijan has become a point of collision of global interests, which cannot but affect the situation inside the country. With that said, it does not seem convincing that this decision was impulsive or spontaneous.

Question: In previous forecasts, it was said that a referendum would be held first. Then parliamentary elections will be held in November next year, and municipal elections in December. There were no ideas about holding early presidential elections.  Wouldn't it be too difficult to hold four elections if it was decided to hold 3 elections in a year plus a referendum? 

Answer: There is a saying: horses are not changed at the crossing. Under the current conditions, changing the system of political governance by holding a referendum could be a waste of time for both the government and the country. And time is short, it is on the verge of disappearing. Therefore, although such an option was expected before the 44-day war for me, it was unlikely that such steps would be taken in the post-war period.  There is a centralized presidential administration in Azerbaijan, and at the present stage the goal is to strengthen it. If this is achieved, the holding of parliamentary and especially municipal elections will not pose such a serious threat to the authorities as it does now. As for the referendum, they can hold it simultaneously with the parliamentary elections. Because after the president strengthens his power, there will be no need to include changes in the issues submitted to the referendum regarding the status of power and the model of political governance.

Question: On March 17, 2024, presidential elections will be held in Russia. The corresponding Resolution was adopted by the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of Russia. Immediately after this news, a decision on elections was made in Azerbaijan. Could the decision taken in Azerbaijan be related to the elections in Russia?

Answer: Undoubtedly, this is one of the factors that influenced the decision taken in Azerbaijan, but it would be wrong to consider it the only main factor. Undoubtedly, Putin's team in Russia will try not to give up their positions. Moreover, the "restoration of the Union state" and similar claims voiced by members of the command in recent days cannot be perceived by post-Soviet countries as anything but a threat. Including Azerbaijan. On the other hand, it is still difficult to say what will happen in Russia during these elections and before them. I am sure that the Azerbaijani government is now giving priority to strengthening its own positions and maintaining its status. In other words, to extend legitimacy.

Question: The decision on the elections, the subsequent achievement of an agreement between the two states without any intermediaries on the release of Azerbaijani and Armenian servicemen, the statement by the Armenian side that peace between the two countries can be signed within 5-10 days, all this happens within one day, and all this happens the next day after James O'Brien's meeting with President Ilham Aliyev during the visit of the US Assistant Secretary of State to the region. Is this a coincidence or was it all agreed upon?

Answer: There may be common positions on the Azerbaijani-Armenian peace talks, but the consistency of all steps does not seem likely. Attempts to hold peace talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia in a bilateral format were made long before O'Brien's visit, and certain steps were even taken in this direction. Perhaps Washington has expressed support for this process, and this is clearly evident from Russia's reaction. I am referring to the mention of the "trilateral format" contained in the statement by the representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry. The release of prisoners of war was an important step both from a humanitarian point of view and because of the need to establish a certain mutual trust. It is also a step that signals the readiness of the parties for bilateral negotiations.

 As for the Armenian side's statement on the possibility of signing peace in 5-10 days, I think we need to be more careful here. Armenia may try to insure itself with such a statement so that if an agreement does not take place tomorrow or some kind of force majeure situation arises, it will assign responsibility to Azerbaijan. You can say, "we are ready and agree, but Azerbaijan is sabotaging the peace process." The best way to avoid this is to take political and diplomatic steps that demonstrate Azerbaijan's readiness for peace. In economic terms, to get maximum profit with minimum costs.  At the same time, there is no doubt that the sooner a peace agreement is signed, the sooner tensions in the region will decrease.

Question: Now there is hope that the arrests may stop, and political prisoners may even be released. Is it worth hoping for this?

Answer: There are no signs of this yet. I would even say that the opposite trends are noticeable. For example, as soon as early elections were announced, the duty mouthpieces of the "old guard" were the first to react to this. The Yeni Azerbaijan Party has not yet formally nominated its candidate, and the old guard has already begun to cringe to Ilham Aliyev and, moreover, has launched the rhetoric of hostility. It seems that there are organized groups in power that are interested in maintaining the gap between the people and the government. They are not at all interested in even a slight improvement in relations between the government and society, since such dynamics will mean that they will be out of business. Therefore, the "crow choir" immediately began singing the praises of Ilham Aliyev, demonstrating open flattery, voiced hostile accusations against those criticizing the authorities, thus trying to take revenge. And the goal is obvious: the message is addressed to him: "without us, your power will not last a day." Although, on the contrary, both the rhetoric and the personality of these subjects cause disgust in society. And these are still those who engage in idle talk, but there are worse ones. For example, those who, having great administrative capabilities and broad powers, demonstrate at every step that they protect the government from non-existent dangers. And now the question is, which side will Ilham Aliyev or anyone else choose if he becomes the candidate of the ruling party: the support of society or a handful of political profiteers who disgust the people? And the attitude towards arrests and political prisoners will depend on the answer to this question. Unfortunately, I don't have an answer to this question.

Leave a review

Party system

Sərhəddə gərginlik. Sülh danışıqları, yoxsa yenidən qarşıdurma? – Cəsur Məmmədov Çətin sualda

InvestPro Azerbaijan Baku & Turkiye Istanbul 2024 – two conferences in one shot

Əziz Bakı şəhəri sakini!

Siz də Qlobal İqlim Dəyişmələri ilə mübarizəyə öz töhfənizi verə bilərsiniz

Dear resident of Baku city!

You too can contribute to the fight against Global Climate Change

Дорогой житель города Баку!

Вы тоже можете внести свой вклад в борьбу с глобальным изменением климата

Follow us on social networks

News Line