Azerbaijan opposition vows to boycott snap presidential vote

Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan attends the opening day of the 48th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland, 23 January 2018. [Gian Ehrenzeller/EPA/EFE]

Leaders of Azerbaijan’s main opposition parties pledged on Monday (12 February) to boycott a snap presidential election which is expected to extend the autocratic rule of President Ilham Aliyev.

“The Popular Front party and the National Council of the Opposition took a decision to boycott the snap presidential election,” the Popular Front chairman, Ali Kerimli, told AFP.

“The conditions for a democratic and competitive election in Azerbaijan are not in place, and there is no independent media,” he said.

“Opposition parties operate in a semi-clandestine manner,” Kerimli said, adding that they would stage protests against the vote in March.

The 56-year-old strongman stunned his oil-rich country last week when he called a surprise snap presidential vote for 11 April — six months ahead of schedule — without providing an explanation.

Azerbaijan calls snap presidential poll for April

Azerbaijan’s strongman Ilham Aliyev called on Monday (5 February) a snap presidential vote for 11 April, six months ahead of schedule, as opposition politicians slammed the surprise move.

Azerbaijan was initially set to hold the vote on 17 October.

The ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party has said that Aliyev will run for a fourth term, a decision that has sparked strong criticism from dissidents.

Opposition politicians have said the decision to hold early elections was aimed at shortening the campaign period and hampering the opposition’s efforts to prevent vote rigging.

Isa Gambar, the leader of Musavat party, told AFP his party “refuses to participate in the election because the authorities will falsify its results.”

The Alternative Republican Movement — whose leader Ilgar Mamedov is serving a jail term over charges he had denounced as politically motivated — also said in a statement that it would boycott the vote.

Opposition under pressure

Aliyev was first elected president in 2003, after the death of his father Heydar Aliyev, a former KGB officer and communist-era leader who had ruled Azerbaijan with an iron fist since 1993.

He was re-elected in 2008 and 2013 in polls that were denounced by opposition parties as rigged.

In 2009, Aliyev amended the country’s constitution so that he could run for an unlimited number of presidential terms, in a move criticised by rights advocates.

Cementing his family’s decades-long grip on power, the president last year appointed his wife Mehriban Aliyeva as First Vice President.

In 2016, Azerbaijan adopted controversial constitutional amendments extending the president’s term in office from five to seven years.

Aliyev says Azerbaijan stronger after referendum

The President of Azerbaijan said his country has never been stronger, more free and independent, in a speech following a referendum on constitutional reform held on Monday (26 September) and backed by over 91% of the population.

The changes drew criticism from the Council of Europe constitutional law experts as “severely upsetting the balance of powers” and giving the president “unprecedented” authority.

The Azerbaijani government has faced strong international criticism for routinely harassing and jailing those opposed to Aliyev’s regime.