The referendum: why Azerbaijan for the third time to change the Constitution

Package Aliyev

Monday, September 26, Azerbaijan held a referendum on introducing the six new articles in the Constitution of the country and 23 of the amendments to the existing articles. This is the third such referendum in 20 of the Constitution, not counting the actual vote on the adoption of the Basic law in November 1995.

Voting in the referendum started at 8:00 local time and was held to 19:00 (18:00 GMT). Two hours before the end of voting the election commissions reported turnout in the district, 64%, or more than 3.4 million citizens to vote.

The final results on the turnout can match the last such referendum in the spring of 2009, when the turnout is 71.1%. Then one of the most controversial and talked-about proposals was the removal of restrictions to the President on the number of re-elections.

At the current referendum, citizens were asked to vote for the increase of the presidential term from five to seven years, for the removal of age limits for presidential candidates, lower minimum threshold for the election of a Deputy from 25 to 18 years. The President will transfer power to dissolve the Milli Majlis, a unicameral Parliament and appointment of early presidential elections.

In addition, the planned introduction of two new higher state positions, namely the positions of Vice-President and first Vice-President. If the referendum approves these decisions (undoubtedly) in case of resignation of the President or of his inability to govern the powers of the President will fulfill the first Vice-President, not the Prime Minister, as usual now. The head of the government of Azerbaijan since 1996 with a short break is 81-year-old Artur Rasizade.

According to the exit poll Opinionway, with the increase of the presidential term voted about 80% came to the polling stations voters.

Internal causes

With the proposal in the Constitution amendment package, the country’s President Ilham Aliyev made a speech July 18 — just a few days after the military coup in the neighboring and friendly Turkey. A week later, the constitutional court approved amendments, after which Aliyev signed a decree on appointment of the referendum at the end of September.

These events were preceded by this spring and the first in many years, the intensification of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Earlier in conversation with the head of the Center of Asia and the Middle East RISS Anna Glazova emphasized that the cooling of relations between Russia and Turkey as two regional balances have brought this conflict to life.

At the same time, Azerbaijani experts believe that the amendments to the Constitution were hardly associated only with the foreign policy reasons. “No connection between these events is not, — says human rights activist and member of the Mejlis Chingiz Ganizadeh. — We do not want war, but if the occupied territories will not be liberated peacefully, our right to use any other means. The results of the referendum have no value”.

Former speaker of the Majlis and the leader of the opposition party “Musavat” ISA Gambar (who performed the duties of the President of Azerbaijan at the height of the Karabakh war) had also rejected a direct link between the referendum and the recent conflicts. “The authorities were in a rather difficult situation. On the one hand, the drop in oil prices and the low efficiency of the economy has led to a serious crisis, ” said Gambar in conversation with . On the other hand, the President apparently did not trust neither the officials nor deputies and seeks through administrative reform to guarantee safe transfer of power.”

Operation “The Heir”

The removal of the limit on the re-election of President Aliyev allowed us in 2013 to be re-elected for a third term. The next presidential elections in the country in 2018, and then, in the case of the adoption of new amendments in 2025. By the time Aliyev will be 63 years and his only son, Heydar Aliyev, Jr., for 28 years. Noting this fact, the associate Professor of the Department of regional studies and foreign policy of the Russian state humanitarian University Sergey Markedonov argued that the abolition of the lower strap to elect the head of state is needed for the approval of the President’s son in the rank of the successor.

Eynulla Fatullayev, head of the Azerbaijani news Agency Haqqin, doubt this theory: first, Ilham Aliyev himself is still relatively young, the second, the election of 2025 are too long term. “Rather indicates the need for regeneration of the political elite, — said Fatullayev. — The government will pursue personnel reforms, attracting young people to the Parliament and to important government posts”. In addition, the expert explained, after the referendum, expected political and economic reforms associated with a decrease of the role of extractive industries in the economy.

Due to the fall in oil prices over the past two years, the Azerbaijani economy was on the verge of a protracted crisis. In December 2015, the local Central Bank (CBA) has moved to a floating exchange rate of the manat, after which the national currency for the day fell against the U.S. dollar in half. During the winter, the CBA banned the exchange of currency outside the banks and limited their export from the country. At the same time, journalists from the anti-corruption OCCRP argue that the family of President Aliyev on the devaluation of the manat earned at least $64 million.

“The main thing is that the regime is now trying to consolidate power within the ruling family, the rest is detail,” commented Gambar possible participation in the election of Aliyev Junior. According to him, if externally, such reform looks like a consolidation of power on the President “comes off not only from society but also from the army officials that will make it difficult for the regime to domestic and foreign policy objectives.

Fatullayev is more optimistic, though warns that the strengthening of the institutions of government and turn the economy from a resource model would take at least five to ten years. “The main reason for the referendum is still in the economy, although there are now alternatives such power we do not have either Aliyev or the Islamists,” he said.