Azerbaijan has voted in favor of extending the presidential term from five to seven years, election authorities said on Tuesday, a step that critics say will hand unprecedented powers to President Ilham Aliyev who has led the country since 2003. The state election commission said a vast majority of the 91.2 percent of voters who turned out in a referendum in the Caspian Sea oil-producer had backed the move. “The referendum was conducted in a transparent manner,” Mazakhir Panakhov, commission head, said before reading out the result of Monday’s plebiscite. Aliyev, 54, who succeeded his father as president, can seek re-election indefinitely after a maximum number of terms in office was scrapped via a similar referendum seven years ago.
The authorities say a longer presidential term will ensure continuity in decision-making, which they say is vital after a slump in world oil prices halted Azerbaijan’s long run of economic growth.
Apart from the high vote in favor of extending the presidential term there had also been strong support for another 28 amendments to the constitution, the election commission said. Turnout was 69.7 percent.
Opposition and rights activists criticized the amendments, which also give the president the right to declare an early presidential election at his convenience, as well as dissolve parliament.