A senior Armenian diplomat denied on Thursday any connection between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s decision to call a snap presidential election and ongoing Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks on Nagorno-Karabakh.
In a decree announced on Monday, Aliyev brought the date of Azerbaijan’s next presidential election forward by more than six months, to April 11. He did not explain the reasons for the unexpected decision which swiftly drew sharp criticism from his beleaguered opponents. Some observers have suggested that the move may be connected with the Karabakh peace process which has intensified of late.
“I don’t think that Azerbaijan is a country where elections matter,” Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian told reporters. “Election results there are always predetermined. So I would link the earlier-than-expect holding of elections in Azerbaijan with their intra-clan relationships.”
“Of course, external factors may also be at play,” said Kocharian. “If there is an internal struggle for power there, then any information to the effect that a rival side in that struggle may be backed by other states could also have an impact.”
Aliyev met on Wednesday with the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, who travelled to Baku at the start of their latest tour of the Karabakh conflict zone. According to the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, Aliyev and the mediators “reached an agreement on the continuation of intensive negotiations after the presidential elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan.”
The mediators were due to arrive in Yerevan on Thursday for similar talks with President Serzh Sarkisian. The latter will complete his second and final presidential term on April 9, two days before the Azerbaijani presidential ballot.
Armenia’s next president will be elected by the parliament in early March and have largely ceremonial powers because of the country’s transition to the parliamentary system of government. Sarkisian is tipped to become prime minister later in April.
Aliyev and Sarkisian pledged to step up the protracted search for a Karabakh settlement at their most recent meeting held in Geneva in October. Their foreign ministers held follow-up talks in December and January. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov described those talks as “positive.”