According to the decree signed by President Ilham Aliyev on February 5, 2018, the date of Azerbaijan’s next presidential election was rescheduled to an earlier date by more than six months – from October 17 to April 11. Despite the announcement that this decision was made in accordance with the country’s Constitution and Electoral Code, the decree drew sharp criticism from political opponents of the regime and raised international observers’ concerns about the legitimacy of the upcoming election. In fact, at least officially, the incumbent president did not exceed his authority by issuing the decree that moved the date of the election forward. The referendum held in September 2016 extended the presidential term from five to seven years granting Aliyev the right to run for the fourth term, as well as securing the right to decree early elections. Moreover, after the Electoral Code was also amended to allow a snap presidential election provided it is announced at least 60 days in advance (World Affairs Journal, 2018), there are no remaining legal obstacles to revise the election date.
As it became known in early February 2018, the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (NAP) announced its intention to nominate Aliyev as a candidate for the presidency, potentially extending his rule to 2025. As a result, during the 6th Congress of the NAP an unanimous decision was adopted to select the party’s chairman, President Aliyev, as the party’s candidate for the April presidential election (Abdul-Aliyev, 2018). The nomination of Aliyev was officially approved by the Central Election Commission of Azerbaijan on February 14, 2018.
Currently, there is little doubt that the incumbent president, who took office in 2003 after his father, Heydar Aliyev, appointed him as his favored successor, will remain in power. However, it should be admitted that the rush to start an election campaign points to a number of pressure factors affecting both political and economic situation in Azerbaijan. Since no official reason of rescheduling the presidential election was announced, it is an open question to what extent the election date change can be justified. Technically, if the election takes place in October as it was initially planned, the next election should have been held in October 2025 meaning that the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for November 2025 would take place almost simultaneously. Under these circumstances, in order to prevent this situation, the Azerbaijani authorities would have to postpone either presidential or parliamentary elections (Mamedzade, 2018). In fact, an early presidential election in 2018 helps to settle the issue. However, it is also clear that this only partially explains the need to change the date.
Indeed, there is a strong possibility that ongoing internal disputes within the ruling elite played a significant part in making this decision. Despite some rumours that an early election could take place, it appears that the decision to set a snap election was unexpected even for the government. In fact, there was a real chance up to the last minute that Mehriban Aliyeva, the first lady of Azerbaijan who was appointed as the first vice president in February 2017, could become a candidate for the presidency. It should be taken into account that even before the official appointment her position in the political hierarchy was quite strong. In fact, the new post only legislatively formalized her status as the main adviser to the head of state on domestic and foreign policy issues. Moreover, the new appointment gave rise to speculations over the possibility of a power transit similar to the Putin-Medvedev example, as the Aliyev-Aliyeva tandem demonstrated the intention to keep power in the family giving a chance for the first lady to temporarily replace her husband in the office if necessary. Taking into account the fact that Mehriban Aliyeva belongs to the Pashayev clan, which is almost as influential as the Aliyev clan, the political elites would have supported Aliyeva if she had taken part in the presidential race. As a result, the appointment of Mehriban Aliyeva as a high-ranking official made the distribution of power among different political groups in Azerbaijan more balanced. However, there is still a lack of unity among the political establishment of the country. Therefore, it appears that the decision to hold an early election was motivated, among other things, by the fact that in recent months Aliyev’s positions have grown in strength.
Moreover, for the first time in the entire period of Aliyev’s rule, the presidential election would be held under the economic and, indeed, systemic crisis in general (Turan, 2018). Azerbaijan’s economy was heavily affected by a sharp drop in oil prices coupled with the ongoing oil production reduction. According to statistics, in 2017, Azerbaijan’s GDP grew only by 0.1%, recovering from a 3.8% decrease in 2016. Moreover, the country’s inflation rate continued to grow from 12.4% in 2016 to 12.9% in 2017. Furthermore, in 2017, Azerbaijan recorded a government budget deficit equal to 1.5% of the country’s GDP compared to 0.4% in 2016 (Trading Economics, 2018). Growing oil prices make it possible to forecast improvements in Azerbaijan’s macroeconomic indicators in 2018. However, there is no guarantee that the upward trend would be long enough to save the official Baku from being accused of economic mismanagement. As a result, it was assumed that it would be a better option to conduct the presidential election at the beginning of the year.
Finally, the factor of the Russian presidential election that will be held on March 18, 2018, is also among the indirect causes of the early election in Azerbaijan. The intention to synchronize the election processes in Russia and Azerbaijan could be explained by the fact that Baku looks forward to the Azerbaijani presidential election being overshadowed by the Russian presidential election (Mamedzade, 2018). Given the poor relations between Moscow and the West, international observers would definitely focus on the March election in Russia giving Baku some space for political maneuvering. In fact, the Western institutions, as well as the political opposition in Azerbaijan, will not have time to form a single and effective approach to the election, thus providing an opportunity for the incumbent president to quietly conduct his campaign.
In conclusion, the aforementioned reasons could only have an indirect impact on the decision to reschedule the election. In fact, Ilham Aliyev still has a high level of credibility among the Azerbaijani citizens. However, it appears that the current president faces internal and external pressures that need to be overcome. From this point of view, it is not surprising that the longstanding leader wants to secure his position from political opponents and create more favorable conditions for himself in the presidential race.
Abdul-Aliyev, R. (2018). Presidential Elections in Azerbaijan. Retrieved from http://cbc.az/en/en/news/presidential-elections-in-azerbaijan1518190834 Accessed on: 15.02.2018
Mamedzade, M. (2018). Snap election in Azerbaijan: Fighting elite, Russia’s factor and economy. Retrieved from https://eadaily.com/en/news/2018/02/06/snap-election-in-azerbaijan-fight…Accessed on: 20.02.2018
Trading Economics. (2018). Azerbaijan Indicators. Retrieved from https://tradingeconomics.com/azerbaijan/indicators Accessed on: 22.02.2018
Turan. (2018). Aliyev Outpaces Events. Retrieved from http://www.turan.az/ext/news/2018/2/free/analytics/en/118837.htm Accessed on: 19.02.2018
World Affairs Journal. (2018). Azerbaijan Schedules Snap Presidential Election in April. Retrieved from http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/content/azerbaijan-schedules-snap-pre… Accessed on: 16.02.2018
 According to the legislation, the parliament elections in Azerbaijan are held every 5 years. Previous elections took place in November 2015.
 In 2017, Azerbaijan produced a total of 38.69 million tons of oil, which is a 5.7% less than in 2016.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Lydiya Parkhomchik (nee Timofeyenko) was born on February 9, 1984 in Zelenodolsk city, located at the territory of the Republic of Tatarstan (Russia). Since 1986 she became resident of the Republic of Kazakhstan. She graduated the high school in 2001 and at the same year she admitted to Abylai khan Kazakh University of International Relations and World Languages. She graduated from International Relations Department with specialization of analyst with knowledge of a foreign language in 2006 and after that started to work as a lecturer at the Chair of International Relations of KazUIR & WL.