Azerbaijanis have started voting in a controversial referendum on boosting presidential powers, with opposition and rights groups denouncing the proposed amendments as a move to expand President Ilham Aliyev’s grip on power. If passed, the referendum would extend the president’s term in office from five to seven years, would introduce a new position of first vice president – who would become the country’s second most powerful leader, instead of the prime minister as is the case now. The proposed constitutional changes also allow the president to call snap leadership elections at will, and easily dissolve parliament. … Opposition groups staged mass protests in the run-up to the referendum, accusing Aliyev of trying to extend his family’s control over the oil-rich former Soviet republic.
The Council of Europe’s constitutional law experts said the draft modifications of the constitution “would severely upset the balance of power by giving unprecedented powers to the president.”
Amnesty International said “the amendments will lead to violations of the right to freedom of association.”
“The referendum has been accompanied by arrests and intimidation,” the rights group said in a statement. “Those who have attempted to criticise and campaign against these proposals have faced assaults and harassment by the authorities.”