Azerbaijan votes to keep current president in power for life

Azerbaijan votes to keep current president in power for life

19 Mar, 01:38 PM

Azerbaijan has voted to abandon the two-term presidential limit, allowing current president Ilham Aliyev to indefinitely prolong his reign.

With more than half the votes counted by early Thursday, 92 percent of Azerbaijanis had voted in favor of lifting the restriction, Central Elections Commission chairman Mazahir Panahov was quoted by AFP as telling journalists Wednesday.

Opposition groups had called for a boycott, arguing that the vote would allow Aliyev, whose family has dominated politics here for nearly four decades, to be president for life.

Despite that, more than 71 percent of voters in the mainly Muslim country of 8.7 million registered their vote, the election commission said.

Aliyev, 47, won a second five-year term by a landslide last October, having taken over from his father Heydar, a top-ranking former Soviet official and KGB member, in 2003, AFP adds.

Supporters of the changes insisted they are aimed at making Azerbaijan more democratic by allowing voters to choose whoever they wish to be president.

But government critics, who have long accused Aliyev and his late father of having ruthlessly held on to power, said the vote was aimed at consolidating the grip of the first family.

Despite opposition objections, the referendum has drawn little criticism from the United States or European countries.

Azerbaijan's opposition accuses Western governments of shying away from criticizing Aliyev, to secure access to Azerbaijan's vast Caspian Sea oil and gas reserves.

Dozens of other constitutional changes were proposed in the referendum, including restrictions on photographing, videotaping or recording people without their permission, a prohibition on showing "disrespect" to "state symbols," and increased state oversight of local governments, AFP adds.

Tags: Azerbaijan, elections, Ilham Aliyev

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