Azerbaijan’s Boringest Election Campaign Ever – Analysis


By Bahruz Samadov 

(Eurasianet) — So far, the campaign for the February 7 presidential election is probably the most boring in Azerbaijan’s history. 

Not because of its predictability. All elections in Azerbaijan, which has been classified as a “hegemonic electoral authoritarian regime” where elections serve only to strengthen the incumbent, are notoriously predictable. 

Nor because of the praise being lavished on the regime by all the candidates. That’s not new either.

Instead, it’s because the public is disengaged from politics to an unprecedented degree. 

That in turn is caused by the genuine popularity of incumbent Ilham Aliyev, who continues to bask in the glory of Azerbaijan’s restoration of sovereignty over the previously contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, and the fact that his government is ramping up repressions ahead of the vote.

Apathy has grown sharply since the last presidential election in 2018, which was accompanied by at least some actual politics. 

Back then, the genuine opposition National Council not only boycotted the poll, it organized several massive rallies in Baku in the run-up to the election.

But no major protests have been staged in the capital since January 2019. Only a few dozen people took part in a rally against the continuing Covid-related closure of the country’s land borders in July 2022 that was organized by now-imprisoned opposition activist Tofig Yagublu. 

Since then, opposition parties have largely stopped trying to mobilize the public around any cause. 

This is connected to the fact that, since the summer of 2020 the country’s political agenda has been dominated by relations with Armenia and the Karabakh issue. After Baku’s military victories in 2020 and 2023, which resulted in the Armenian exodus from Karabakh, the government discourse has grown more and more anti-Western. The collective West is accused of double standards, pro-Armenian stances, and jealousy. 

Ahead of the Azerbaijani delegation’s preemptive withdrawal from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), pro-government media waged a campaignagainst the “Islamophobic and Turkophobic” Council of Europe – an institution that defended Azerbaijani civil society with its Court of Human Rights, which often rendered verdicts in favor of former political prisoners, including compensation. 

While the upcoming election will be observed by the OSCE, other European institutions are not invited to monitor the poll, including the European Parliament and PACE.

What do the candidates say?

Azerbaijan’s largest opposition parties are boycotting this poll, as they have done for the past two presidential elections and the past six elections overall.

And as in years before, Aliyev’s “challengers” are in fact largely sycophants who echo the regime’s talking points. 

In the first debate on the public channel ITV, all candidates praised Ilham Aliyev’s role in the victory in the Karabakh conflict. 

One nonpartisan candidate, Zahid Oruj, directly called on his supporters to vote for the government. 

In the following debate, the nonpartisan candidate Fuad Aliyev called for closer cooperation with Russia- and China-dominated entities such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, BRICS, and the Eurasian Economic Union. He also called to drift away from the “hostile” collective West. 

Ultra-nationalist Elshad Musayev of the “Greater Azerbaijan Party” advocated officially laying claim to the Zangezur (Armenia’s Syunik Region), which he calls  Azerbaijani “historical land.” 

Surprisingly there was a modicum of criticism from MP Gudrat Hasanguliyev, the head of the Whole Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, who lamented the lack of democracy in the country and backed a transition to a parliamentary system. 

He also called for renaming the country the “North Azerbaijan Republic,” a move popular among pan-Turkic nationalists as it implies territorial claims on ethnic Azeri-populated northwestern Iran. 

Other candidates issued vague appeals regarding social rights and offered ideas for improving housing and education. 

None mentioned the president’s name in a negative context. There was no serious criticism of the government. It was not serious political discourse.

Few people bother to watch the debates on TV, and their online views numbers are paucal. Amid the voter apathy, jailed critics and lack of serious challengers, the current government will easily be re-elected. More easily than ever. 

Bahruz Samadov is a PhD candidate in political science at Charles University in Prague. 


Originally published at Eurasianet. Eurasianet is an independent news organization that covers news from and about the South Caucasus and Central Asia, providing on-the-ground reporting and critical perspectives on the most important developments in the region. A tax-exempt [501(c)3] organization, Eurasianet is based at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute, one of the leading centers in North America of scholarship on Eurasia. Read more at

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