Azerbaijan referendum extends president’s term in office

Azerbaijan has voted in favour of extending the presidential term. Supporters say it will ensure continuity in decision-making, while critics say it will hand unprecedented powers to President Ilham Aliyev.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

In total, 29 constitutional amendments were voted in Monday’s referendum.

Azerbaijan has voted in favour of extending the president’s term in office from five to seven years in a referendum held on Monday.

A vast majority of the voters, 91.2 percent, backed the amendments which also include lowering the age limit for presidential candidates and creating new vice-presidential posts.

Opposition and critics suggest that the constitutional changes would hand more powers to President Ilham Aliyev as they enable the president to declare an early election and to dissolve parliament at any time.

Aliyev came into power in 2003, succeeding his father Heydar Aliyev as president.

Before 2009, a president was not allowed to serve more than two terms in office. However, that law was amended via a referendum, and Aliyev secured his third term in 2013.

Ahead of the vote, experts from the Council of Europe, a rights and monitoring organisation, warned that many of the changes would severely upset the balance of power by giving “unprecedented” powers to the president.

Members of the US Congress also sent a letter to Aliyev saying that the referendum would create a crisis of legitimacy.

"By lengthening presidential terms and expanding presidential authorities, the proposed constitutional changes are susceptible to abuse that would entrench political authority, making it less responsive to the will of the Azerbaijani people," the letter reads.

Azerbaijani citizens living abroad also voted in the referendum.

However, supporters say a longer presidential term will ensure continuity in decision-making, which they claim is vital for Azerbaijan’s oil-based economy.

"The referendum results will have a positive effect on the implementation of economic reforms and will give an impetus to business development," said Ali Ahmedov, secretary of the governing Yeni Azerbaijan party.

Oil pumped to Europe has strengthened the Azeri currency - the manat - but the country’s economy has been hit hard by a slump in world oil prices in the past two years.

European observers from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) recognised the referendum results. However, they demanded the Azeri authorities improve the voting process.

"We think the referendum results are a step towards secure, stable and sustainable development of Azerbaijan and reflect the will of the Azerbaijani people," said Aleksandar Nikoloski, who headed the PACE monitoring delegation.

"PACE hopes the Azerbaijani authorities will respect the opinion of the Venice Commission in all its aspects," he added, referring to the Council of Europe advisory unit which had voiced concerns about the voting process.

TRTWorld and agencies