Azerbaijan’s president seeks constitutional changes to enhance powers

Azerbaijan’s president seeks constitutional changes to enhance powers
Ilham Aliyev has been in power since succeeding his father in 2003
By bne IntelliNews July 19, 2016

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev submitted a decree to the constitutional court on July 18 calling for a referendum on several changes to the constitution that would further enhance his powers. Presidential decrees in Azerbaijan normally have to be approved by the parliament, but they are rarely overturned.

Aliyev is proposing the establishment of two new offices - those of a first vice president and of a vice president. Both will be appointed and dismissed by the president. The first vice president would take over the president's responsibilities if and when the latter is unable to fulfil them due to illness, holidays, resignation or other reasons, and has immunity during his term. This marks a drastic change to the current state of affairs, in which the office of the prime minister - who is approved by the parliament - takes over the president's responsibilities in such cases.

Following a purge in the state administration in late 2015, sources in Baku have informed bne IntelliNews that the administration was planning to replace long-serving Prime Minister Artur Rasizade, who is in his early 80s.

In addition to the two new posts, the presidential decree suggests scrapping an article that requires that the president be "not younger than 35", extending the presidential term from five to seven years, granting the president the ability to call for extraordinary elections and reducing the age of candidates for parliament from 25 to 18. It also proposes the addition of articles on the dissolution of the parliament, the right to conduct international agreements, and the division of power between the government and municipalities.

Aliyev is already believed to hold almost absolute power in Azerbaijan, where democratic checks and balances are frequently violated and institutions like the judiciary, ombudsman and media are heavily politicised. However, some of the changes the new decree is seeking to make appear to pave the way for a possible dynastic presidency in the country - the president's two daughters and son are all under the age of 35. Daughter Leyla Aliyeva, in particular, has been very active in public life and is the vice president of the wealthy Heydar Aliyev Foundation, which is headed by her mother Mehriban Aliyeva. 

Earlier this year, unconfirmed rumours claimed that Aliyev had medical problems.