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The text of the Draft Referendum Act on “Making changes to the Constitution of Azerbaijan Republic” submitted by the order of President Ilham Aliyev to the Constitutional Court for feedback has been made public.
According to the proposed amendments, for prejudicing human rights and freedoms, civil servants will bear only civil responsibility.
The main notable amendment is removal of the presidency age limit from the Constitution and extension of the presidency term from 5 years to 7 years. Under the current Constitution, there are such requirements for presidential candidates as not being younger than thirty five, permanently living in Azerbaijan for more than 10 years, etc. It is now proposed to remove the age limit from the Constitution.
The draft referendum act also proposes establishment of the Institute of Vice-Presidency in Azerbaijan. According to the draft act, first vice-president and vice-presidents are appointed and dismissed by the president. “Vice-president of Azerbaijan Republic is appointed from among citizens of Azerbaijan Republic possessing voting right, with university degree, and having no liabilities in other states. When the president leaves the office, his powers are proposed to be transferred to the first vice-president, if he is absent to the Prime Minister or to the Chairman of Milli Majlis (Parliament) in the order given. At the same time, during the term of office the vice-president of Azerbaijan Republic shall have personal immunity,” the amendment reads.
Another proposed change to the Constitution is reduction of the age limit for becoming an MP from 25 to 18.
“Milli Majlis of Azerbaijan Republic shall be dissolved by the President of Azerbaijan Republic, if the same convocation of Milli Majlis makes a vote of no confidence in the Cabinet of Ministers of Azerbaijan Republic twice within one year or after the recommendation of the President of Azerbaijan Republic and two submissions fails – within the period prescribed by law – to appoint the candidates to the post of members of Constitutional Court of Azerbaijan Republic, Supreme Court of Azerbaijan Republic and Board of Management of Central Bank of Azerbaijan Republic in numbers required for their activities, or fails to perform the duties specified in Articles 94 and 95, Article 96 § II, III, IV and V, and Article 97 of the present Constitution for reasons that cannot be overcome,” the proposed amendment reads.
Various opinions have been expressed about the proposed changes. Member of the Parliament’s committee on legal policy and state building, MP Rovshan Rzayev thinks that these amendments are a progressive step.
“Extending the presidential term from 5 years to 7 years will help strengthen stability in Azerbaijan. The proposed changes should first of all be accepted as the next phase of ensuring social justice. Azerbaijan’s Constitution is socially-oriented. In it, the state undertakes all issues related to the resolution of social problems of the population. We should assess these amendments in this way,” the MP said.
MP Fazail Ibrahimli noted that the 7-year presidential term included in the amendments is a common practice around the world.
“In Azerbaijan, elections take place three years in a row, i.e. three years of the five-year term are dedicated to elections. It takes one year to organize each election. Therefore, the proposal to extend presidential term from 5 years to 7 years is commendable,” said Siyavush Novruzov, deputy executive secretary of Yeni Azerbaijan Party (YAP) and Chairman of the Parliament’s Committee on public associations and religious organizations.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman Ali Karimli said that customizing the Constitution to fit the wishes of one family is certainly a reactionary step and that “we must protest against this referendum all together.”
“It seems as though the authorities do not consider the existing legislation adequate enough for building a strictly authoritarian and monarchist regime. Therefore, they have decided to amend the Constitution. The government tries to establish a monarchy in the country and to not bother itself by holding rigged elections every 5 years,” Musavat chairman Arif Hajili said.
“Republicans should not remain silent in the face of a new referendum move by the government. Right now, the biggest responsibility falls on us. 2018 will be a centennial of our Republic. We should not go to 2018 with a Constitution destroying Republican values. According to the amendment the government wants to introduce to the Constitution, presidential term will be not 5 but 7 years. Besides, it empowers the President to dissolve the Parliament elected by the people, and takes away the inviolability of property. The provisions to be adopted will destroy the Republican values. D18 Movement calls upon everyone to unite and have discussions under the umbrella of Republican values and to let the people know that this is a wrong decision. This step by the authorities has to be prevented. We are not going to achieve any positive result through individual objections. The country’s intellectuals, media representatives and politicians must act together, hold discussions, work together with the people, and try to prevent adoption of this decision,” D18 Movement’s statement reads.
Lawyer Annagi Hajibayli believes that the envisaged amendments serve to help the transfer of power to whoever desired. “I believe that alteration of the Constitution through similar proposals and political considerations every few years is an act of discrediting the Constitution as a whole. It reduces the Constitution’s regulatory role from legal viewpoint as the supreme legislative act of the state,” the lawyer said.
Background: Azerbaijan’s Constitution was adopted on November 12, 1995. It was first amended through referendum on August 24, 2002 and last time on March 18, 2009. The amendments introduced in 2002 were establishing the Prime Minister as the second person in the country after the President and the abolition of the proportional election system. Until then, the second person in the country was considered the head of the Parliament. The amendment made to the Constitution in 2009 enabled unlimited re-election of the president, although until then, there was a two-term presidency limit in Azerbaijan like in many other countries.