Several opposition parties in Azerbaijan have announced that they will boycott the early presidential election scheduled for April, according to local media reports. On February 5, President Ilham Aliyev called for a snap election via a brief decree published on his website, but no explanation for the move was offered.
Originally, the presidential election was scheduled to take place on October 17, but it has now been brought forward to April 11. Presidential aide Ali Hasanov sought to provide some kind of an explanation to the media - there are other events taking place in the autumn and it is best to organise the poll for an alternative time, he said.
"The announcement of extraordinary elections narrows the already limited opportunities for holding fair and free elections in Azerbaijan," a statement put out by the Real movement, announcing the boycott, read. "Real will not recognise the elections without ensuring democratic conditions for their conduct, as well as the participation of [Real chairman] Ilgar Mammadov, and will use the right to urge citizens not to participate in this farce," it continued.
Similarly, the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF) announced that it would not participate in the elections. Its chairman, Jamil Hasanli, wrote in a Facebook post that "the next presidential election was scheduled for October 17. This was announced only three weeks ago. This day (October 17) was even declared an official holiday. And now, suddenly, early elections are scheduled, just five days before the start of the election campaign. During this time, no extraordinary events took place in the country that would justify holding early elections. Today, at the meeting of the NCDF Coordination Centre, we discussed the situation around the early elections and their possible political, legal, social and moral consequences. We regard the scheduling of extraordinary elections on April 11 as a mockery of the election institution, as the destruction of its remains."
Having amassed so much wealth and power that his rule and dominance in Azerbaijan is practically unstoppable, Aliyev has in recent years grown increasingly overt in his violations of democratic rights. If beforehand his administration would at least seek to save face, nowadays Aliyev does not refrain from blatantly abusing power, leaving his aides to scramble together explanations for his actions. For instance, in 2017, the incumbent appointed his rather politically unskilled wife as his vice president and successor; Mehriban Aliyeva had served several terms as an MP prior to her appointment, but her political activity has been modest at best.
The April election is important because it is the first ballot since 2016, when Azerbaijanis voted in a referendum to add to the president's already expansive powers and extend the presidential term from five to seven years.
As things stand, elections in Azerbaijan are a sham; no other party but the New Azerbaijan Party, founded by Aliyev's father, has won a parliamentary election in the past 25 years, and only Aliyev and his late father have served as presidents since 1993. Opposition parties are frequently harassed and face draconic censorship, while their members are customarily arrested, beaten, sentenced to long prison terms over trumped-up charges or, frequently, driven into exile.
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