Game of thrones in Armenia and Azerbaijan
There is little doubt that the winner of the snap presidential election in Azerbaijan on Wednesday (11 April) will be its incumbent head of state, Ilham Aliyev. More interesting is the motive for such a move – which may well be the wish to counter the consolidation of power in arch-foe Armenia.
Azerbaijan’s strongman Aliyev called in February a snap presidential ballot for 11 April, six months ahead of schedule. The oil-rich country was initially set to hold the vote on 17 October and the surprise decision sparked strong criticism from opposition parties.
The real intrigue is however in the balancing act with Armenia, a neighbour with which Azerbaijan is technically at war over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Ethnic Armenians backed by Yerevan seized control of Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan in the early 1990s, in a war that left an estimated 30,000 dead. The two sides never signed a definitive peace deal and all attempts to negotiate a final settlement have stalled.
In April 2016, at least 110 people were killed in Nagorno-Karabakh on all sides as the simmering violence escalated into the worst clashes in decades.
The second and final term in office of Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan ends in April 2018. Since 2015, Sargsyan has been pushing controversial constitutional amendments designed to curb presidential powers and boost the post of prime minister, which he appears keen to take up.President-elect Armen Sargsyan (not a relative to Serzh Sargsyan), will be sworn as the new head of state on Monday (9 April), at a special parliament session in Yerevan. In March, parliament elected Armen Sargsyan, who had been Armenia’s ambassador to London, to be the next head of state.