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Azerbaijan parliament approves referendum to end presidential term limits

[JURIST] Azerbaijan's parliament, the Milli Majlis [official website, in Azerbaijani], on Friday voted 100-7 to approve a March 18 referendum [press release, in Azerbaijani] that could amend the nation's constitution [text] to remove presidential term limits. The present law contains a two-term presidential limit, which would bring the administration of President Ilham Aliyev [official website; BBC profile] to an end in 2013 after the expiration of his second five-year term. On Wednesday, a plenary session of the Azerbaijani Constitutional Court [official website] ruled that the proposals may be put to a national referendum [press release, PDF]. The ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party, which holds a substantial parliamentary majority, said that the referendum strengthens democratic rights of citizens. Opposition parties including the Musavat Party [party website] and the Liberal Party have denounced the move as threatening to create a de facto monarchy. Among the other proposals to be put to vote are provisions that would postpone national elections during wartime.

Aliyev was elected president of Azerbaijan [JURIST news archive] in 2003 following the death of his father Heydar Aliyev [BBC profile], a prominent leader in the the oil- and gas-rich former Soviet republic since 1969. In October, Aliyev was reelected with nearly 90% of the vote [BBC report], though the election was boycotted by opposition parties and was internationally criticized for failing to meet democratic standards [OSCE report; NATO statement]. Aliyev has been accused by members of the press of heavy-handed repression of the media [JURIST report]. In June, a Freedom House rights group report said that corruption and repression are increasingly threatening legal rights [JURIST report] in Azerbaijan.

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