Azeri s President Ilham Aliyev dressed in a military outfit and raised his fist during a televised address to the nation during which he said that his country s forces had captured the town of Shusha in Nagorno-Karabakh, in what would be a major strategic victory over the region s Armenian separatists. AFP
The order was published on the presidential website but did not explain why Aliyev had called an early vote. The next presidential election had been scheduled to be held in 2025.
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 there.
Some analysts suggested the timing of the vote was aimed at taking advantage of the recent burst in popularity and doing so while Russia was occupied with its own election so as to minimize that country's possible influence on the campaign.
In November, Aliyev presided over a military parade through Khankendi, the capital of the region, telling spectators that "we showed the whole world the strength, determination and indomitable spirit of the Azerbaijani people.”
Khankendi, which Armenians called Stepanakert, was the headquarters of the self-declared separatist government of the territory known formerly as Nagorno-Karabakh. The region and sizable surrounding territory came under control of ethnic Armenians in 1994 at the end of a separatist war.
But Azerbaijan regained parts of it and most of the surrounding territory in 2020 after a six-week war. That fighting ended with a Russia-brokered truce between Azerbaijan and Armenia that called for Russian peacekeeping forces to be deployed there and to ensure open transit along a road connecting the city with Armenia.
However, Azerbaijan began blockading that road last winter, leading to severe food and medicine shortages in the Armenian-held area. Then in September it launched a blitz that forced the separatist forces to disband.
More than 100,000 ethnic Armenians fled the region in the following days, leaving the city nearly deserted and under the control of Azerbaijan.
Russian lawmakers on Thursday set the date of their country’s presidential election for March 17.
Independent political analyst Zardusht Alizade told The Associated Press that Aliyev calling for an election so close to the Russian one is no coincidence. He “wants to neutralize and minimize possible Russian influence on the elections," Alizade said.
Russia, which has developed warm ties with Azerbaijan, is involved in a delicate balancing act as it also is the main ally and sponsor of Armenia.
“Aliyev is not mistaken about the fact that there is a powerful pro-Russian wing in Azerbaijan's ruling elite. But now Russia will have no time for Azerbaijan," Alizade said. "Just like the Ukrainian war doesn't allow Russia to actively interfere in the affairs of the Caucasus, the presidential campaign in Russia will push the issue of Azerbaijan into a remote corner.”
The successful blitz in Karabakh gives Aliyev “a chance for an unconditional victory with very high results of popular support," the analyst said. “There is not a single person now who could compete with him on the political arena.”
Azerbaijan's opposition, in the meantime, alleged that the vote might be rigged.
Ari Kerimli, leader of the opposition People's Front of Azerbaijan Party, said in a statement Thursday that calling for an early election without a public debate about it is a sign that the authorities "are afraid of political competition even in this repressive atmosphere."