Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev has called an early presidential election for February 7, 2024.
The president on Thursday ordered officials to hold a “snap election” earlier than planned, according to a decree by the presidency. The vote was originally going to be held in 2025.
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Aliyev’s popularity in Azerbaijan has recently increased after the government took full control of the Karabakh region following a lightning rout of ethnic Armenian forces. The vote is expected to extend the decades-long rule of his family.
Aliyev, 61, was last re-elected in 2018 for a seven-year term, with a declared 86 percent of the vote, in a poll boycotted by major opposition parties.
With political dissent largely suppressed, he is almost certain to win a new term.
In September, Aliyev ordered a lightning offensive, after a nine-month blockade, to take full control of Nagorno-Karabakh from the ethnic Armenians who had run it for more than three decades.
It was Baku’s second successful assault on ethnic Armenian-controlled territory in three years and finally overturned what Aliyev and most in Azerbaijan saw as the historical wrong of Karabakh’s de facto secession in a bloody ethnic conflict that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union. Almost all of the region’s 120,000 or so ethnic Armenians fled.
According to an Azerbaijani-run pollster, about 75 percent of the population agrees with how Aliyev handled the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Aliyev’s approval ratings had always been high, and they skyrocketed after the victorious military operation in Karabakh in September,” independent political analyst Farhad Mammadov told the AFP news agency. “He is at the peak of his popularity.”
Aliyev has run the country since 2003 after succeeding his father, the previous ruler, Heydar Aliyev.
The two-term limit for presidents in the country was removed in 2009 and in 2016, the presidential terms were extended from five to seven years and Aliyev appointed his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, as the first vice president.
Supporters have praised the Aliyevs for turning a republic once thought of as a Soviet backwater into a flourishing energy supplier to Europe.
But critics argue they have crushed the opposition, stifled media and used their power to amass a fortune that funds a lavish lifestyle for the president and his family.
Rights activists have recently decried the arrest of several high-profile journalists known for investigations into corruption among the political elite.
The organisation Reporters without Borders (RSF) ranks Azerbaijan 151st out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index.