Aliyev seeks to remain Azerbaijan’s president indefinitely

Aides say people love Mr. Aliyev too much to let him go

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Saturday December 27, 2008

Ilham Aliyev consults sheepherder Khanysh Kishi during his election campaign. www.president.az.

Washington - Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev is apparently considering keeping his post for at least another decade, according to reports from Baku. Mr. Aliyev just started his second five-year term as president after being formally re-elected with no significant opposition.

In the last several weeks, Mr. Aliyev's ruling New Azerbaijan party (YAP) began procedures for removing constitutional clauses that prevent the same person from holding the presidency for more than two consecutive five-year terms.

According to media reports, another planned change to the constitution provides for unlimited extension of a presidential term should the conduct of war interfere with the holding of elections.

Since Mr. Aliyev frequently states that Azerbaijan remains at war with Armenia and the status quo (including cease-fire violations) could be argued to have precluded holding elections in some localities, all national voting could theoretically be scrapped in Azerbaijan forthwith.

YAP member Ali Husseinov argued last week that "formal restrictions" had to be removed to "avoid potential domestic upheavals and to secure normal work of the head of state and liberation of [Armenian] occupied territories."

But local political commentator Ilgar Mamedov suggested a more domestic reason for the change. He told RFE/RL that the change was a sign that Mr. Aliyev no longer intends to hand over power to his wife Mehriban Pashayeva in 2013 as many have speculated.

Ms. Pashayeva, who is a nominal member of parliament, reportedly wields considerable political influence and in recent years her profile was considerably raised both domestically and in Azerbaijan's official contacts with foreign partners. She has not yet reacted to her husband's initiative.

The Azerbaijani "framers" adopted the term limits after copying them along with most of the constitutional text from the Russian constitution in 1995.

(Since 1992 term limits have been scrapped or altered in most of Central Asia and Belarus. And the Russian government moved last month to extend the next president's term from four to six years, although terms limits are being kept in place.)

The term limits were ignored during the 2003 elections, when Mr. Aliyev's ailing father and predecessor Heydar Aliyev was initially registered to run. But Heydar Aliyev's name was withdrawn from the election after he reportedly suffered clinical death and Ilham Aliyev prevailed in the intra-familial power struggle against his uncle Jalal Aliyev.

But now, the president's aides have cited "numerous letters" from Azerbaijani citizens praising Ilham Aliyev's performance as president and calling for removal of the term limits as the rationale behind the change.

President's birthday celebrated in style

According to Eldar Azizov, mayor of Ganje, Azerbaijan's second-­largest city, it was love for the "great man" that led his city's "businessmen and intellectuals" to prepare a 5-ton, 30-meter cake to mark President Aliyev's 47th birthday on December 24.

According to Trend news agency, a Turkish contractor was hired to do the actual baking. According to Day.az, the bakers used 1.5 tons of flour, 1.5 tons of sugar and 20,000 eggs. The cake was decorated with symbols, a flag, and the number 47.

According to photos published by Day.az, the giant dessert was guarded by several hundred young men in uniform who surrounded the entire perimeter around the birthday cake. They were apparently holding off a crowd of some 30,000 that was reported to have eventually shared in consumption of the cake and stayed on to hear a subsequent concert.

But tough security didn't protect the cake from inclement weather with photos showing puddles of water forming on top and around the concoction.

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Charles Aznavour. Via Wikimedia

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