Azerbaijan has edged closer to extending President Ilham Aliyev's stay in office, after lawmakers asked the Constitutional Court to consider a referendum that would allow unlimited presidential term limits.
The move by lawmakers comes two months after Aliyev was reelected to a second five-year term with official election results giving him more than 88 percent of the votes.
Ali Akhmedov, the executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, defended the move, saying the current two-term limit "deprives citizens of the right to choose who will lead the country."
Lawmakers voted 95 to four in favor of asking the court to rule on the legality of a referendum on the issue, which has been gaining momentum since Aliyev was reelected.
The speaker of Azerbaijan's parliament, Oqtay Asadov, told lawmakers that there was no need to debate the language of the proposed constitutional changes yet.
"We will debate this after we get an answer from the Constitutional Court," Asadov said.
The court will have 15 days to issue its ruling. If it decides the move is legal, parliament will be able to vote again on whether to hold the referendum and to set a date.
Making Future Clear
"For a long time in Azerbaijan, a third term for the president has been forbidden. Under the constitution adopted in 1995, none of the presidents can run for a third term," Ilqar Mammadov, a Baku-based political analyst, tells RFE/RL.
"But Ilham Aliyev decided right after his second election in October 2008 to run for a third term in 2013," Mammadov adds.
Mammadov says Aliyev's push for the referendum also has quashed rumors in Baku that Aliyev's wife, Mehriban Aliyeva -- who currently serves as a member of parliament -- was being positioned to run for the presidency in 2013.
"We see now that Ilham Aliyev has put an end to that analysis and those ideas right at the beginning of his second term," Mammadov says. "So he doesn't see his second current term as the last one for himself. And he does not want his wife to succeed him in 2013."
Leading opposition parties boycotted the October election, accusing the authorities of persecuting political opponents and muzzling the media.
International observers said the vote did not fully meet democratic standards.
Aliyev came to power in 2003, succeeding his father Heydar Aliyev, who died that same year after dominating politics in the former Soviet republic for three decades.
Despite concerns about the country's democratic record, Western governments -- including the United States -- have courted Aliyev for access to the vast oil and natural-gas resources of the Caspian Sea region.
RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service contributed to this report