Azerbaijan: Results of the Constitutional Referendum
With the recent economic struggle that has hit Azerbaijan caused by the decline in oil prices, the current government’s grip on power has been threatened. As a result, President Aliyev held a constitutional referendum on the 26th of September, which included twenty-nine questions. Initial findings by the Council of Europe suggest that the majority of citizens voted in favour for all of the changes.
The most notable and concerning proposed amendment is the extension of the presidential term of office from five to seven years. This spares Aliyev having to run until 2020, with the possibility of running again seven years later since unlimited term limits were introduced by a 2009 referendum. Additional amendments include the introduction of the presidentially-appointed “First vice-president,” who will be assigned, with immunity, leadership responsibility in the event of presidential capacitation, and a “Vice-president” position. Currently, the parliamentary-approved Prime Minister is responsible for leading the country should the President be unable to perform his duties. However, there is speculation that the new First VP position is being introduced to be given to Aliyev’s wife or 18 year old son. The additional amendment to lower the minimum age of eligibility to be elected as President or to Cabinet to 18 may be influencing such speculation.
Apart from structural changes to the executive branch, adjustments were also proposed that directly affect individual members of society. Freedom of assembly and access to information will be more easily restricted, and Azerbaijanis will also have the possibility of having their citizenship revoked. Finally, individual property right changes were also proposed which enable the state to limit these rights justified by “social justice and efficient use of land” concerns.
Like the 2002 and 2009 referendums, there have been accusations of fraud and repressive crackdown, which would compromise the legitimacy of the results to be announced officially by October 21. The UN Special Rapporteur Michel Forst reported that the already deteriorating human rights situation in Azerbaijan has become significantly worse surrounding the referendum, with various media personnel being silenced, NGOs and human rights defenders facing legal persecution, and peaceful protesters being subjected to violence.