Azerbaijan scraps presidential term limits, may defer elections
by Emil Sanamyan
Published: Saturday March 21, 2009
Ilham Aliyev and his spouse Mehriban Pashayeva. RFERL photo
Washington, - Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev could remain in his position for as long as he wants and may scrap holding scheduled elections if he determines that the country is "at war," according to the changes approved by Azerbaijan's citizens on March 18, news agencies reported.
According to official figures more than 70 percent of eligible voters turned out and 92 percent of them voted for the government-proposed changes.
Opposition groups said less than 25 percent of citizens turned out, making referendum results invalid. But no public protests were reported, with opposition leaders blaming "public apathy."
There has also been little to no international reaction.
In Washington, a State Department spokesperson expressed concerns over reports of violations during the referendum and a low-key campaign that preceded it, Voice of America reported. But there have been no official U.S. comments on the substance of changes.
European parliamentarians who observed the vote said the referendum was well-run. But Ian Micaleff, a Council of Europe official, told Radio Liberty the amendments violated Azerbaijan's commitments to the Council and could even result in Azerbaijan's expulsion from the organization.
The intention to hold the referendum was first made public last December, two months after Mr. Aliyev was re-elected to his second five-year term. Azerbaijan's opposition also boycotted that vote.
Government officials said the changes were important for Azerbaijan's stability.
Government critics suggested the move was intended to constrain the government faction that sought to have Mr. Aliyev's wife, Mehriban, to replace her husband in 2013.
Other countries with presidential rule to have recently scrapped presidential term limits include Belarus, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Venezuela. Meanwhile, Armenia, Georgia, Iran, Russia, and Turkey are among countries that retain term limits for presidents.
UPDATE: In late April Ilham's older sister Sevil Aliyeva publicly denied speculations she was considering challenging her brother's rule. While Sevil appears to remain loyal to her brother, she might have helped veto Mehriban's bid for the presidency, at least for now.
In photo, Sevil Aliyeva during a visit to Baku in 2006. She has been resident in London for most of the last decade. RFERL photo