On December 7, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev unexpectedly signed a decree calling a snap presidential election for February 7, 2024.
The 61-year-old autocrat has been in power since 2003. His current, fourth, term was set to expire in early 2025.
Each of his re-election victories have been by comically wide margins in polls held with nothing but the faintest patina of democratic legitimacy.
Now Aliyev is riding a wave of genuine popularity thanks to Azerbaijan's victory over Armenia in the 2020 Second Karabakh War and the recent military conquest of the entirety of Karabakh, which ended centuries of Armenian habitation in the region.
So at this point any outcome other than a crushing landslide victory for the incumbent in February is nigh impossible to imagine.
No explanation has been given for Aliyev's decision. Some have speculated that it's an effort to lighten the 2025 political calendar, as parliamentary elections are also scheduled for that year and the Russian peacekeeping presence in Karabakh is due to end.
This indicates a desire to hold polls "in isolation from the democratic world" and a fear of even "minimal political competition," he said.
Karimli also speculated that Aliyev wanted to lock down another 7-year term before a possible Russian defeat in the war in Ukraine that could upend the regional geopolitical situation to authoritarians' disfavor.
Russia factor or not, Aliyev could be driven by a simple desire to not leave anything to chance and clinch another term while victory is a foregone conclusion.
While it's hard now to imagine his grip on power loosening in the near term, there is a creeping sense of uncertainty in Azerbaijan as to what comes next after Karabakh's return to the country's fold. Some are wondering how Aliyev's rule will derive its sense of purpose now that he has achieved what he called his "sacred goal."
Whatever Aliyev's reasoning, his decree does fit a pattern. In February 2018, to everyone's surprise, he decided to hold that year's presidential election six months earlier than originally scheduled.
That election, which he won with 86 percent of the vote, was the first to be held under constitutional amendments approved in 2016 that extended presidential terms from five years to seven.
And in 2019, his rubber-stamp parliament suddenly dissolved itself, paving the way for a snap election in early 2020 in which a few dozen pro-Aliyev MPs were replaced by others who were equally loyal to the president.
Aliyev effectively inherited the Azerbaijani presidency after his father Heydar's death in 2003. Heydar Aliyev had been president since 1993. He was also the head of Soviet Azerbaijan in 1969-82.
So if Ilham wins in February and serves out his fifth term through 2031, the Aliyev dynasty will have led Azerbaijan in one form or another for more than 50 years in a span of just over 61 years.
There has been speculation in years past that Aliyev would like his wife and first vice-president, Mehriban, or son Heydar Jr to succeed him. It's far-fetched, but there is a possibility that he will use the February poll to step down and pass on the mantle of power with the aim of keeping it in the family for even more decades to come.
John Horan is Eurasianet's Caucasus editor.