Azerbaijan Prepares for Snap Elections Amidst Controversy and Criticism

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Azerbaijan is set to hold snap presidential elections on Wednesday, with President Ilham Aliyev seeking a fifth term following the success of his army’s victory over Armenian separatists in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The military operation, heralded by Aliyev as an “epochal event unparalleled in Azerbaijan’s history,” led to the recapture of the region in September.

Despite Western criticism and accusations of adding “fuel to the fire” in the Caucasus region, Aliyev rejected peace talks with Armenia last autumn and has taken a confrontational stance towards international bodies. The president threatened to withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe rights watchdog, refusing to invite observers for the upcoming elections.

The snap elections, called a year ahead of schedule, are facing a boycott from the main opposition parties, citing a lack of conditions for free and fair elections. Ali Kerimli, leader of the opposition National Front party, highlighted concerns about fundamental rights violations, restricted freedom of assembly, and government pressure on the media.

While Aliyev’s supporters praise his role in transforming Azerbaijan into a flourishing energy supplier to Europe, critics argue that he has systematically suppressed opposition voices and curtailed independent media. Independent analyst Najmin Kamilsoy pointed to a “colossal asymmetry” in favor of Aliyev, with the elimination of potential opponents through repressions creating a lack of competition.

In recent months, Azerbaijani authorities intensified a crackdown on independent media, arresting critical journalists who exposed corruption at high levels. Giorgi Gogia, the Human Rights Watch associate director for the Caucasus, characterized the upcoming elections as “an exercise in futility” with a predetermined outcome due to the absence of a legitimate opposition challenge.

Ilham Aliyev, 62, first assumed the presidency in 2003, succeeding his father Heydar Aliyev. He has since been re-elected in 2008, 2013, and 2018, with opposition parties denouncing the elections as rigged. In 2009, Aliyev amended the constitution to allow for an unlimited number of presidential terms, raising concerns about the possibility of becoming a president for life.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will monitor the polls, which open at 0400 GMT. Preliminary results are expected to be released several hours after voting concludes at 1500 GMT. The outcome will likely impact the political landscape in Azerbaijan and further shape the dynamics in the region.

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