Baku (AsiaNews/Agencies) - In a referendum on March 18, Azebaijan approved 49 changes to the constitution with a "Soviet style" majority. But at the Council of Europe, there are concerns that these modifications will allow current president Ilham Aliyev to be elected repeatedly, and consolidate his personal power at the risk of the young democracy.
According to the official data, about 90% of the voters approved the changes. The supporters of the referendum stress that 71% of the 4.9 million eligible voters turned out.
The opposition, which had indicated that it would abstain from voting, says that this is "a step backward for democracy, and a step toward monarchy." The Constitution prohibited the president from being reelected more than two consecutive times, meaning that Aliyev would not have been able to run again at the end of his current term. Now there are no limits to reelection, and there are fears of power for life, after the country was led for decades by the father of the current president.
The opposition is also claiming fraud, and announcing appeals to invalidate the vote. But this is contradicted both by independent observers and by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which maintains that the vote was "transparent, well-organized and held in a peaceful atmosphere."
But there is harsh criticism from Ian Micallef, president of the Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, the main regional organization for the protection of human rights. In an interview with Radio Free Europe, he says that these changes violate the pro-democracy commitment made by Baku in 2002, and that Azerbaijan's membership in the Council could be suspended.
From Baku, Samed Sayidov, head of the Azeri delegation to the PACE and a member of Aliyev's Yeni Azerbaycan party, responds that Micallef is not well informed on the situation in the country, and that the referendum was held in a completely democratic manner.
Previously, the Commission had stated that a limit on reelection is necessary, to prevent the president in office from using his power to impose an authoritarian and anti-democratic regime on the country.