President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev signed an order today announcing extraordinary presidential election. "This is a matter arising from the Constitution and it belongs to the competence of the head of state", one ruling party MP, Aydin Mirzazadeh, told the Turan news agency.
Mammadov is the head of the Republican Alternative Movement (REAL), the most credible opposition group remaining in Azerbaijan after more than two decades of authoritarian consolidation begun by Aliyev's father and predecessor, Heydar Aliyev, and accelerated by the younger Aliyev. Opposition parties have never posed much of a challenge to Aliyev during his almost 15 years in power, and the leader has won each presidential election he's participated in with over 75 percent of the vote.
Carnegie Europe senior fellow Thomas de Waal, a leading expert on the Caucasus, offers another explanation: "Azerbaijan's inconvenient prisoner", Ilgar Mammadov.
56-year-old Ilham Aliyev was first elected president of Azerbaijan who took office in 2003, after the death of his father Heydar Aliyev who is considered as Father of Nation for people of Azerbaijan.
Another source of speculation was that the move could head off any attempt by Russian Federation to insert itself into the process.
"Safeguarding the tranquility in the country and preventing any possible meddling from overseas are the main reasons behind rescheduling the [presidential] elections in Azerbaijan", Elkhan Shahinoglu, the head of the Atlas Research Center headquartered in Baku, told Caspian News. Aliyev's office did not immediately explain the move.
The West will be busy assessing the Russian presidential election which is scheduled for 18 March.
The President fears the situation in Azerbaijan may become unstable before autumn. He also said Aliyev appears to be laying the groundwork for a further crackdown on domestic opposition, which he would like to do soon, but after the election.
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".
The president was granted the right to appoint snap elections under amendments to the constitution passed at a referendum on September 26, 2016.
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