Three months before Ilham Aliyev was reelected president of Azerbaijan in a ballot on October 15 that all major opposition candidates boycotted, Ali Ahmedov, executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP), floated the idea of amending the Azerbaijan Republic constitution to remove what he termed the "undemocratic" ban on one person serving more than two consecutive presidential terms.
At the same time, Ahmedov noted that any such constitutional amendment would have to be endorsed by means of a nationwide referendum.
With the presidential election safely over and its outcome undisputed, YAP now intends to launch a campaign for the holding of such a referendum. That proposal was immediately endorsed by the head of Azerbaijan's Russian community, Mikhail Zabelin, on the grounds that "our state needs a strong, authoritative leader."
Within days, the chairman of the pro-government Ana Veten party, Fuad Agamaly, proposed extending the presidential term from five to seven years.
His argument for doing so is that Azerbaijan is faced with a unique set of challenges by virtue of its geo-political location, and the advent to power of "extraneous people" could lead the country to "tragedy and disaster."
Therefore, Agamaly reasoned, Azerbaijan should have a leader whose interests and policies the international community respects -- and Ilham Aliyev is just such a leader. Why, then, Agamaly asked rhetorically, should he be constrained by the constitution to leave the political stage in 2013 at the age of only 52?
If YAP does proceed with its orchestrated campaign to permit Aliyev to retain the presidency until 2020 at minimum, it risks inviting unflattering comparisons with even more authoritarian regimes in Central Asia. Tajikistan amended its constitution in June 2003 to enable incumbent Imomali Rahmon, who was first elected president in 1994, to serve two further seven-year terms.
Kazakhstan has gone even further. After extending the presidential term from five to seven years in October 1998, thereby paving the way for Nursultan Nazarbayev's reelection in December 1998 and again in December 2005, Kazakhstan's parliament ruled in May 2007 to shorten the presidential term from seven to five years, effective 2012. But two days later, deputies also voted to remove the restriction on the number of terms Nazarbayev may serve, effectively endorsing him as president for life.
-- Liz Fuller