Nagorno-Karabakh has already been annexed by Azerbaijan. For the next term, permanent president Aliyev will have to consider a different form of legitimation.
Not much more is possible: the result of Wednesday's Azerbaijan presidential election was more than 90 percent of the vote for incumbent Ilham Aliyev. But one cannot speak of a free and fair vote in the South Caucasus republic. The event, like all elections for decades, was a farce.
The political opposition boycotted the vote. Six of the so-called competitors celebrated the autocrat as the winner, who had managed to restore Azerbaijan's sovereignty over its entire territory through the repatriation of Nagorno-Karabakh last fall. The positive for Baku is that around 100,000 Armenians have fled the region. Thanks to massive repression, the few remaining media outlets critical of the government have been silenced.
So now, another seven years of Aliyev, the glorious new era can begin. But beware: times could become uncomfortable for the permanent president, who now seems not to care about the image of his regime abroad. The narrative so far has been to bring enemy Armenia to its knees and regain control of Nagorno-Karabakh. A new narrative is now needed to legitimize one's own power.
The breaking points in the country become visible
And that's exactly where the problem lies. Because Nagorno-Karabakh, where the government is pumping horrendous sums of money into reconstruction, is not keeping the people fed. Azerbaijan's economy is stagnant and unemployment is high in lagging rural areas. Health and education systems can also be expanded. All of these breaking points become more visible and noticeable the more the euphoria of victory evaporates. They could give rise to corresponding expressions of dissatisfaction.
To distract from domestic political misery, Azerbaijan's leaders could consider new military adventures. Southern Armenia or a corridor to Nakhichevan, an Azerbaijani micro-republic surrounded by Armenia. The sad certainty is that Western states, many of them with Baku in the oil and gas business, will once again sit idly by.