Azerbaijan’s referendum facilitates the establishment of Aliyev dynasty

Tue 27 Sep 2016

Azerbaijan’s referendum facilitates the establishment of Aliyev dynasty
On 27 September the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Azerbaijan announced the initial results of a Constitutional referendum held on 26 September. With reports from 70,2 % polling stations already processed, CEC chairman Mazahir Panahov said that the voters turnout was 69,7 % (25 % are required for the referendum to be valid). Therefore, all 29 constitutional amendments put to referendum have been approved. Panahov reassured that voting was democratic, transparent and in accordance with law. The referendum was aimed at protecting stability and will improve the political system and governance, he added. There were 53,531 local observers, including representatives of political parties, NGOs and referendum campaigning groups. As a result of the referendum the power of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and his family is expected to strengthen. The most important amendment is an extension of the president’s term of office from five to seven years. According to CEC, 90 % of the voters supported this change. Furthermore, two vice-presidential posts will be created, who will be appointed and dismissed by the president. The first vice president will fulfill the responsibilities of the president in case the latter becomes incapacitated. The president is also now able to schedule early presidential elections and dissolve the parliament if twice in one year it adopts no-confidence measures against the government or rejects presidential nominees to the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, or the governing board of Azerbaijani Central Bank.

Other Constitutional amendments

Voters in the September 26 referendum could agree to every amendment separately. Among other changes approved by Azerbaijani people (according to the official results) is the abolition of the minimum age for presidential candidates (before: 35), as well as lowering the age of the parliamentary candidates to 18 (before: 25). The right to free assembly has now become dependent on public order and morality. Moreover, state officials acquired greater rights to expropriate private property for public use in the interest of social justice and effective land use. Additionally, Azerbaijani citizenship can now be withdrawn in accordance with law.

Reactions to the referendum
Last week a preliminary report of the Venice Commission was released, in which it criticized the extension of the presidential mandate as unjustifiable and said the other changes will distort the balance of power giving unprecedented control to the president. "The referendum has been accompanied by arrests and intimidation from the beginning," Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International, said in a statement. "Those who have attempted to criticise and campaign against these proposals have faced assaults and harassment by the authorities."
Azerbaijani opposition characterized the results of the referendum as signals of an upcoming authoritarian regime. Ali Kerimli, chairman of the Popular Front Party (AHCP), described the referendum as "an attempt to provide a constitutional foundation for the existing de facto unlimited [Aliyev] family power and strengthen authoritarianism." "This referendum only serves to strengthen the president as an institution and weaken all government branches," said former parliamentarian Iqbal Agazade, who heads the independent Hope (Umid) political party. "It looks like the current regime does not see existing legislation as authoritarian enough, or sufficient enough to establish a monarchy," - said Arif Hacili, head of the opposition Equality (Musavat) party, - "This is why it has decided to change the constitution."
President Ilham Aliyev defended the changes saying that they are meant to streamline the government and simplify political and economic reforms. Parliament deputy speaker Ziyafet Asgarov said that the referendum aimed to "reinforce state authorities, and ensure human rights and freedoms at a higher level." Ruling New Azerbaijan (Yeni Azerbaycan) Party official Siyavush Novruzov stated that extending presidential terms is important to avoid having elections in three consecutive years in 2018, 2019, and 2020.

International observers
The referendum was monitored by 117 international observers from 33 countries, including representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Parliamentary Assembly of the Turkic Speaking State, parliaments of the UK, Italy, Turkey, France and Australia.
Aleksandar Nikoloski, head of the Referendum Assessment Mission PACE, said that the referendum to amend the Azerbaijani Constitution was organized in accordance with the national legislation, the voting process was transparent and smooth and no serious irregularities were registered during the counting of votes.
Russian Federation Council member Ilyas Umakhanov, head of the CIS monitoring mission, said the referendum was "very well prepared," adding that "former Soviet republics are exhibiting an innovative attitude and completely new norms of democratic development."

Sources: AZERTAC RFERL The Washington Post VOA

Photo: Carpetblogger