7 december, 2023
Azerbaijan Announces Snap Presidential Elections for February 2024
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On December 7, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev announced that a snap presidential election will be held on February 7, 2024. The announcement came only hours after Russia declared March 17 as the date for its presidential election in 2024. The next presidential election was originally scheduled for 2025. The last election took place in 2018, following the extension of the presidential mandate from five to seven years in 2016. These developments occur against the backdrop of Azerbaijan’s recapture of Nagorno-Karabakh in September, amidst rapid geopolitical changes in the South Caucasus, where Azerbaijan’s clout is increasing and Armenia faces challenging circumstances.
The timing of the snap election announcement, just hours after Russia declared its 2024 presidential election date, and its scheduling a month prior to Russia’s election, are not coincidental. Russia’s potent and frequently used hybrid tactics and various levers of influence represent one of the greatest threats to Azerbaijan and its internal stability. Moscow’s malign capacity to destabilize is especially potent and dangerous ahead of elections, as has been seen many times in the post-Soviet region. Thus, holding elections in Azerbaijan while Moscow is busy with organizing the political theatre of its own elections minimizes Moscow’s ability to sabotage.
Moreover, and crucially, one of the most important factors here is the Russian peace-keeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh, stationed there as part of the trilateral ceasefire statement in 2020, whose mandate was due to expire in 2025 – coinciding with the original date set for the presidential election in Azerbaijan. Baku is naturally averse to the prolonged stationing of Russian troops on its territory, as this represents a significant threat, a reality also observed in many countries across the post-Soviet space. However, the possibility of their presence beyond 2025 remains unresolved and will likely lead to more tensions and Russian attempts to coerce Azerbaijan. Thus, by scheduling the election earlier, Baku can kill (or at least cripple) two birds with one stone.
The announcement also comes at a time when Azerbaijan is in a stronger than ever position, while at the same time facing a South Caucasus in flux and many uncertainties, including related to its conflict with Armenia, tensions with the West, and its relations with Türkiye, Iran and Israel. Aliyev also wants to take advantage of the popularity boost brought by regaining control of Nagorno-Karabakh. Therefore, Baku likely aims to consolidate its recent gains while the circumstances are favourable.
Domestically, Baku is also grappling with socio-economic issues, including rising social tensions and disaffection, economic inequality, water scarcity and sluggish economic growth. Since recapturing Nagorno-Karabakh did not resolve any of these, the regime now faces the long-term issue of reshaping national ideas and narratives to garner popular support and maintain its legitimacy. This must also be viewed against the background of increasing repression, diminishing civil society space, and recent arrests of journalists. Thus, the short time span before the election – only two months – also minimizes the possibilities for any opposition and civil society to mobilize and voice their opinions.