Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 187

Azerbaijan’s Central Electoral Commission announced today that Haidar Aliev has been reelected to another five-year term as president of the country. According to provisional returns released this morning, Aliev received more than 70 percent of the votes cast in yesterday’s first round of the presidential election. The turnout was also in the range of 70 percent. Under an unusual provision in Azerbaijan’s electoral law, a presidential candidate needs at least two-thirds of the votes cast in order to be elected in the first round. Based on that provision, Aliev’s five challengers had hoped to force him into a runoff. Yesterday’s result obviates the need for a runoff, however. When first elected in 1993, Aliev had been credited with a Soviet-style score of more than 98 percent (International agencies, October 12).

Aliev’s career epitomizes the transformation of a Communist Party apparatchik and KGB officer into an opposite of that type. Born in 1923 in the Nakhichevan area (later to become an autonomous republic in Soviet Azerbaijan), Aliev joined the KGB at an early age, rose to head the KGB of Azerbaijan, held the post of First Secretary of the Azerbaijani Communist Party from 1969 to 1982 and sat on the CPSU Politburo in Moscow as a full member from 1982 to 1987. He was ousted from that post for as yet unclarified reasons, returned to Azerbaijan in 1990 and reestablished a political base for himself as leader of Nakhichevan while power was passing from hand to hand in Baku. Separated from the rest of Azerbaijan by a salient of Armenian territory, which grew owing to Armenian successes in the Karabakh war, Nakhichevan led de facto an independent existence and provided an example of stability, contrasting to the turmoil in the capital and the country.

When the Popular Front government collapsed amid chaos in 1993, its leaders including then-President Abulfaz Elchibey vacated the seat of power and turned to Aliev as a last resort. Elchibey, like Aliev a native of Nakhichevan, spent more than four years (until November 1997) in internal exile in his home village. Aliev, elected chairman of parliament in June 1993, went on to be elected president by popular vote in October of that year. He successfully outmaneuvered his pro-Russian rival, Prime Minister Suret Huseinov, and foiled a series of coups and assassination attempts in 1993-95. The threads of these conspiracies seemed to lead in most cases to Moscow, and Aliev said so openly.

Aliev ran for reelection on the record of his five-year term, which included restoring order and stability, signing and adhering to the ceasefire in the Karabakh conflict, halting the country’s economic collapse, and–his chief achievement–attracting nearly US$40 billion in Western investment commitments to the country’s oil sector. In so doing he established close relations with the United States and other Western countries and Turkey, denied Moscow any sizeable participation in oil projects, insisted on the choice of non-Russian routes for Caspian oil exports, opposed Moscow’s position on the legal status of the Caspian Sea, denounced the Russian military presence in Armenia and Georgia, and turned Azerbaijan into a linchpin of TRACECA.

In his internal policies, Aliev ruled in an authoritarian fashion over a politically immature and volatile society. He also tolerated or even encouraged the clan phenomenon to flourish, and has not yet moved to establish rules for an orderly succession to the presidency.