Monday sees Azeris going to a referendum vote on constitutional changes that have been criticised by the Council of Europe as posing a “serious risk to the balance of power”.
A previous referendum in 2009 scrapped term limits that means President Ilham Aliyev, in power since 2003, can rule as long as he is elected. He now wants seven year, not five year terms, and Monday’s vote also gives the office more powers.
“Today the stability of the state and its effective governance is strategically important. From this point of view, a referendum that sees the amendments adopted will ensure the more stable, more dynamic and consistent development of the country,” said parliament’s Chairman of the Committee of Foreign and Inter Parliamentary relations Samad Sayidov.
Aliyev succeeded his father Heydar, who initially ruled Azerbaijan as its last Communist Party leader within the Soviet Union before the country became independent.
Oil is the country’s main export, which has been hit by the last two years of low prices, and an economic boom has been replaced by bust. The opposition and human rights groups say Aliyev ruthlessly muzzles criticism and keeps the media compliant.
“Practically the president in Azerbaijan has all powers. He is a “superpower person “in Azerbaijan. But he has some legislative responsibilities and limits. With these changes he wants to legitimise his practical power,” says the Caucasus Civil Initiative Centre’s Advisor
Aliyev’s third term ends in 2018, but the opposition complains it is hard to mount a challenge when its leaders are bought off, silenced or arrested, and the media is submissive, claims supported by several NGOs.