Azerbaijani President Proposing Amendments to Increase Power and Central Control

ICC NOTE: Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev has presented to the government a list of proposed alterations to the country’s constitution. Most are changes that would allow for himself and his family to remain in power for longer periods of time while maintaining control if he were to ever be incapacitated. The proposed amendments also include restrictions upon land ownership and the freedom to assemble. While there is no direct connection to specific religious groups or organizations, the broad interpretation of said new amendments could allow authorities to restrict and or confiscate land owned by religious groups or believers. By placing restrictions on the freedom to assemble, it could be broadly interpreted to include worship meetings and other religious gatherings. This is of course speculative at the moment, but such a proposal for an increase in central control by a government with a past of violating human rights raises the possibility it could occur.

7/20/2016 Azerbaijan (Radio Free Europe) – Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has unveiled proposed amendments to the country’s constitution that opposition politicians claim are intended to enhance and prolong his and his family’s dominance of supreme power.

Azerbaijan’s Constitutional Court is to rule on those amendments within days, after which they will be put to a nationwide referendum (whether individually or as a package is not yet clear).

Specifically, the amendments prolong the presidential term from five to seven years and introduce the posts of first vice president and vice president. In the event that the president becomes incapable of discharging his duties, they devolve to the first vice president (not to the prime minister as at present). Only if the first vice president is similarly incapacitated does supreme power devolve to the prime minister. It is unclear whether those changes were deemed expedient in light of the fact that incumbent Prime Minister Artur Rasizade, who has occupied the post since 1998, is now 81.

The president is also empowered to schedule early presidential elections and to dissolve parliament if within one year it twice votes no confidence in the government or rejects his proposed nominees to the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, or the board of the Central Bank.

The minimum age for presidential candidates (currently 35) would be abolished and the age for election to parliament lowered from 25 to 18.

Other proposed changes preclude the “abuse” of certain rights, including: the right to free assembly, which would be contingent on “public order and morality” not being violated; and the right to ownership of land, which could be restricted in the interests of “social justice and effective land use.” In addition, Azerbaijani citizenship could be withdrawn “in accordance with the law.”

Opposition Concerns

Two senior veteran opposition politicians have already voiced their concerns about the impact of the planned changes.

Azerbaijan Popular Front Party Chairman Ali Kerimli described them as “an attempt to provide a constitutional foundation for the existing de facto unlimited family power [and] strengthen authoritarianism” with the aim of keeping the Aliyev clan in power for all eternity. He did not speculate whether the post of first deputy president may have been created specifically for Aliyev’s wife, Mehriban, who is a deputy chairwoman of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP).

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