Azerbaijanis vote to reappoint president for a fourth term in controversial election

The reasons why Azerbaijanis reappointed Ilham Aliyev as president for another term are manifold and complex, according to an EU expert.

On April 11, Azerbaijanis reappointed Aliyev for a fourth presidential term with over 85% of votes.

Over 5 million eligible voters had to choose among 8 candidates and the elections were monitored by 894 observers from 59 countries and 61 organisations, including MEPs.

The election was originally scheduled for October and the election was criticised by several opponents who boycotted the poll. The electorate, however, seemed to be unaffected as turnout reached 75% of the eligible voters. According to a survey Azerbaijan’s economy and security were top priorities for voters.

Jeanne Laperrouze, a consultant in European affairs and former political advisor in the European Parliament, sought to explain the outcome, telling this website: “The current economic situation is indeed particularly favourable to the incumbent President. The country has finally recovered from a crisis since last year thanks to the oil price rise, generating new jobs. 79% of interviewees argue that Aliyev has improved economic conditions.

Polls, she said, showed that the  Nagorno-Karabakh dispute was a key issue for voters with 73% of respondents believing that Aliyev "keeps the country safe". The population also considers that the President has "well represented the interests of the country at the international level".

Laperrouze said, “In order to grasp Aliyev’s hegemony over the country and the feeling of stability it inspires in the population, -  despite the imperfections of this Republic, often accused of corruption - it is necessary to analyse the foreign policy determinants for this small oil-producing country on the shores of the Caspian Sea, which only gained its independence in 1991. Based on four pillars, the foreign policy of the of the South Caucasian state aims at keeping the balance of interests among its neighbours as well as maintaining the stability and integrity of its territory.

“The first is a consequence of Azerbaijan’s past. Historically tied to the Persian Empire for 1,000 years, Azerbaijan has civilizational, religious, ethnic and cultural ties with its neighbour Iran. While Azerbaijan differs from Iran with its secular nature, around 30m ethnic Azerbaijanis, including the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, living in northern Iran contribute to maintaining good relations between the two countries.”

She added, “Similarly, the fact that Azerbaijan bowed under the rule of the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union for nearly 200 years explains the strong synergies between Azerbaijan and Russia in the economic and military fields (which does not prevent Azerbaijan from cooperating with NATO). Moreover, the Russian language is still broadly taught in Azerbaijani schools as a second or third language and used by the Russian-speaking minorities living in the country. 

“Another pillar of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy is religious-based.  The Constitution of Azerbaijan guarantees the principle of secularism since 1918. With its 65% Shiite population, Azerbaijan is one of the rare Muslim countries where sectarian cleavages are minimum. This can be best exemplified by the fact that both Shiites and Sunnis share the same mosques. State-religion relations are regulated by a high authority in the country, where Shiites, Sunni, Christian Catholic, Christian Orthodox, Mountain Jewish, European Jewish and other religious communities are all represented by their respective heads and are entitled to receive public funding. The Azerbaijani religious tolerance is often singled out as a model for other Muslim countries.”

The third pillar is both linguistic and cultural.

“As Turkic-speaking states, Azerbaijan and Turkey maintain very close economic, diplomatic and military relations. Turkey is the first country to have recognised the independence of the country in 1991. Moreover, the trilateral Turkey-Azerbaijan-Georgia, Turkey-Azerbaijan-Iran and Turkey-Azerbaijan-Turkmenistan meetings are important mechanisms for the stability, peace and prosperity of the region.

She said, “The last pillar of Azerbaijani foreign policy is geographical. Azerbaijan, at the border between Asia and Europe, is a member of the Council of Europe since 2001. The EU, which relies on this oil-rich country to secure its energy supply, is the Azerbaijan’s largest trading partner. Azerbaijan and the EU signed an Association and Cooperation Partnership in 1999 and a Strategic Energy Partnership in 2006.

“In order to maintain the integrity of its territory, Azerbaijan, a partially-occupied country, is constantly juggling the sometimes conflicting interests of very powerful partners. The diplomacy based on strategic balance and careful pragmatism initiated by Heydar Aliyev that is being perpetuated by his son Ilham Aliyev today seems to be successful in reassuring the population and consolidating the Aliyev rule.”

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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