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Azerbaijan Report: June 25, 2002

25 June 2002
Constitutional Court Backs President's Referendum Plan
The Constitutional Court has ruled that changes to the Constitution proposed by President Heydar Aliyev do not conflict with the principles of Azerbaijan's basic law. Aliyev appealed to Constitutional Court on 14 June to express its opinion on his proposals regarding changes to the Constitution. The court published its opinion on 21 June.

President Aliyev intends to hold a referendum on constitutional amendments regarding the separation of powers, the election of the president and parliament, and the functions of law-enforcement bodies in the protection of human rights. One key point in the presidential proposals is a change in what happens if the president retires or becomes incapacitated. Under the Constitution's current Article 105, in that case the chairman of parliament assumes the president's duties. Under the president's proposal, the prime minister -- who is appointed by the president and is responsible to him, not the legislature -- would assume presidential prerogatives.

An amendment to Article 101 would change the threshold for a candidate to be elected president in the first round of voting, from two-thirds to 50 percent plus one vote.

There are also changes concerning the legislature. Deputies in the Milli Mejlis (Parliament) are currently elected on the basis of majority and proportional election systems under Article 83 of the existing constitution. But the president proposes to eliminate proportional party lists and have deputies elected only through winning majorities in districts. Proposed amendments to Article 3 would forbid holding a referendum on issues that are in the competence of executive institutions, such as taxes, the state budget, amnesties, elections and appointments to executive posts. The Constitutional Court gave its approval to Aliev's proposal to hold a referendum on changes to the Constitution. The referendum is scheduled to be held on 24 August.

(Natig Zeynalov)

President Aliyev Comments on Referendum Before Leaving for Istanbul
On 24 June President Heydar Aliyev left for Istanbul to take part in the 10th jubilee summit of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization. After the summit Aliyev will go to Ankara to hold several meetings. At the end of his visit the president is expected in Qars, eastern Turkey, where he is to receive an honorary doctorate from the Caucasus University. Aliyev said that he will not hold a meeting with Armenian President Robert Kocharian during his trip, though some reports have suggested he would. He did not rule out holding talks on Azerbaijani military cooperation with Turkey.

Before leaving Baku, Aliyev answered press questions. Commenting on his order to hold a referendum on changes to the Constitution, he characterized the transfer of presidential duties to the prime minister, rather than the speaker of parliament, in case of the president's incapacitation as a "natural process." The attitudes of public and political circles to the president's proposed amendments to the constitution are different. Some political observers support the changes. Former Prime Minister Ali Mesimov, for example, said that there is nothing strange in the president's proposals.

Some analysts believe that the proposed changes are intended to limit the power of a speaker who has proven too ambitious. Speaker Murtuz Aleskerov was recently forced to respond publicly to articles in opposition newspapers claiming that he had climbed to power and was in effect second after the president. It is possible that because of his alleged presumption the speaker is now facing the threat of losing his position. Such suppositions or ones like them will increase. But the real purposes of the constitutional amendments will be known only with time.

(Zerhanim Ahmedli)

Opposition Opposes "Paris Principles"
A group of opposition parties has voiced objections to a reported list of "Paris Principles" designed to help end the Nargorno-Karabakh conflict. The opposition Karabakh Liberation Organization organized a meeting of political parties to discuss the alleged proposals, which were revealed by President Heydar Aliyev earlier this month. According to Akif Nagi, the head of the organization, the position of international institutions and the Azerbaijani government on Karabakh has caused internal violence in Azerbaijan. Nagi claims that international organizations are trying to force Azerbaijan to make some concessions in the Karabakh negotiations. Nagi argues that recent visits to the region by the Minsk Group's co-chairs, their peace proposals, and recent speeches by the head of state all prove his point.

At the end of the KLO-organized discussion, the participants decided to hold a joint meeting of political parties in order to formulate what they call a general popular position on the "Paris Principles." Nagi said that pro-governmental parties will be invited to the planned meeting because these parties influence public opinion through the mass media.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

Activists Mobilize to Help Nardaran
On 25 June the Human Rights Monitoring Group created a Committee for the Protection of Nardaran's Inhabitants. A member of the group, Saida Gojamanli, said that the organization decided to take such an initiative after a long investigation into the events surrounding the 3-4 June confrontation between residents of the village and security forces that left one villager dead. A number of inhabitants were detained before and after the clash, and the fate of some detained persons is still unclear. According to human rights activists, the committee intends to hire famous lawyers for these persons. Moreover the committee plans to help people wounded during the incident. Gojamanli also said that the one important task for the organization is to liquidate police checkpoints on the roads leading to Nardaran. Police posts were established at the entrance and exit to the village after the incident, and the local population does not know what to do. Another task of the committee is to cooperate with international organizations.

(Babek Bekir)

Commentaries in the Azerbaijani press react to President Aliev's proposal to hold a referendum on changes to the Constitution.

The article "The meaning of amendments to Constitution" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" suggests that President Aliyev intends to keep his son Ilham Aliyev in the center of the attention in order to realize his plan to have his son succeed him.

According to the independent newspaper "525," the Constitutional Court's approval of holding a referendum on changes to the Constitution will without doubt force the passive opposition political parties to take active steps.

According to the independent newspaper "Echo," the government is preparing for the referendum but the opposition is preparing to protest.

An article entitled "Division and destruction continues" in the pro-governmental "Azerbaijan" claims that the confrontation inside the divided Azerbaijan People's Front Party points to its forthcoming collapse.

A member of parliament from the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, Aydin Mirzazade, comments in the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaijan" on the proposed constitutional changes. Writing about having the prime minister rather than the speaker of parliament assume presidential duties in the event that the president becomes incapacitated, Mirzazade notes that there are executive, legislative and judicial powers in Azerbaijan. It is illogical, he writes, that if the head of the executive branch is unable to perform his function, his duties are transferred to the legislature. In the executive branch, the prime minister comes second after the president. (Under the Azerbaijani system, the prime minister is a member of the executive branch appointed by the president and accountable to him, not to parliament.) According to that logic, if the speaker of parliament retires, for example, his duties should be transferred to the judicial branch. The proposed amendments eliminate that contradiction.

In an article entitled "Indefinite successor" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," Azer Ayhan writes that President Aliyev intends to accelerate his plan to have his son succeed him. The head of state is trying to implement that plan within the framework of the laws and the constitution. There is no doubt that this factor slows down the promotion of Ilham Aliev, Ayhan writes. The author notes that according to the press, several states including the United States and Russia have not given their permission for the president's plan. But these states' "no" will not force Aliyev to change his mind. It is well known, Ayhan claims, that the successor operation has started, and logic suggests that despite what the press claims, Washington and Moscow support the president's intentions. Ayhan also raises another question, asking if Ilham is really his father's choice to succeed him. The author suggests that the name of the president's son is mentioned in order to divert public attention. There may be another candidate, he writes, pointing out that the proposed changes to the constitution give even foreign residents the right to hold the post of prime minister.

The Civil Unity Party's secretary for international affairs, legal expert Elchin Gambarov in an article in the 25 June issue of the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" discusses the president's proposed constitutional changes. The author claims that the president's "successor plan" is in its final stage. The question is, who will be President Aliev's successor? In addition to Ilham Aliev, the president's son, other persons such as National Security Minister Namig Abbasov, Interior Minister Ramil Usubov, and Ramiz Mehdiyev, the head of the president's executive apparatus, could also become the president's successor. Taking into account that foreign residents can also hold the post of prime minister -- Aliev's heir apparent if changes to the constitution are approved -- it is not possible to exclude former KGB chairman Vagif Huseynov or Vahid Alekberov, the president of the Russian oil company Lukoil. But nevertheless Gambarov argues that the president's real dream is to see his son become the next president. And all these machinations show that the authorities are alarmed by political and biological realities.

Zohrab Ismail in an article entitled "Either to power or to be pensioned off " in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" says that President Aliyev is determined to take part in the next presidential elections and after that to solve the problem of the transfer of power. Propaganda for the president's son is on the increase, giving cause to believe that he is candidate number one in the "power transfer" plan. Ismail also notes the opposition's response has not been unified. Although the opposition started protest actions last spring, it did not achieve much success because the opposition parties could not create a single consultative center or define a unified political line.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)