Azerbaijan calls snap presidential poll
BAKU – Agence France-Presse
Azerbaijan’s strongman Ilham Aliyev called on Feb. 5 a snap presidential vote for April, six months ahead of schedule, as opposition politicians slammed the surprise move.
“Set the date of the election of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan on April 11,” Aliyev ordered in a decree posted on his website without providing an immediate explanation for the move.
The oil-rich country was initially set to hold the vote on October 17.
Last week, the deputy chair of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party, Ali Akhmedov, said that Aliyev planned to run for a fourth consecutive term.
The decision sparked strong criticism from opposition parties.
“The Aliyevs have been in power for some 45 years already and that contradicts the principles of a democratic republic,” the leader of the opposition Popular Front party, Ali Kerimli, told AFP.
The veteran politician said the decision to hold early elections was aimed at shortening the election campaign and “hampering the opposition’s efforts to prevent vote rigging”.
So far, two opposition candidates - Musavat party leader Isa Gambar and the chairman of the Classical Popular Front Party Mirmahmud Miralioglu - have announced they plan to run for president.
Aliyev, 56, 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 he could run for an unlimited number of presidential terms, in a move criticised by rights advocates who say he could become a president for life.
In 2016, Azerbaijan adopted controversial constitutional amendments, extending the president’s term in office to seven years from five.
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.
Cementing his family’s decades-long grip on power, the president last year appointed his wife Mehriban Aliyeva as first vice president.