Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Incumbent Party of Aliyev Seeks to Overturn Presidential Term Limits in Azerbaijan

According to the constitution of the former-Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, presidents are limited to two terms in office. Now, as president Ilham Aliyev approaches the end of his second term, his party's stance is that such limitations are "a violation of voters' rights." The New Azerbaijan Party--Aliyev's party and the ruling party in Azerbaijan's parliament--has recently proposed more than 20 constitutional amendments, including one designed to end presidential term limits.

Many are wary that the move is less motivated by a concern for "voters' rights," and more concerned with the incumbent majority party's desire to maintain and enlarge its control. There was similar deep concern in December when the government banned all international radio broadcasts over FM waves--effectively ending transmissions of BBC World Service, Radio Free Europe, and others. And there were widespread demonstrations by the minority parties following the Summer 2005 elections, owing to a suspicion that the incumbents had ensured a less-than-free-and-fair vote.

So what do you think? Are term limits such as this good for democracy? Or are they a limitation on the ability of the people to exercise their right to choose?

A few background notes: Oil-rich Azerbaijan is a secularized Islamic state, located between Armenia and the Caspian Sea. Because of its oil production, various parts of Azerbaijan (such as Baku--the capital--and Sumgayit) routinely make top ten lists of the planet's most-polluted places.

The country is locked in an ongoing dispute over a region called Nagorno Karabakh. This region, officially located within the interior of Azerbaijan, has been inhabitated for centuries by ethnic Armenians who have now declared themselves an autonomous republic--complete with a parliament, flag, and visas for visitors.

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