Azerbaijan: authoritarian constitutions send a signal


azerbaijan ilham-aliyevIlham Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s president of 13 years, is often described as a “strongman” who enjoys near absolute power over the oil-rich nation on the Caspian Sea, The Financial Times reports:

But it appears he does not feel powerful enough. Last week he held a referendum on 29 alterations to the constitution to expand the authority of the presidency. …The amendments include extending the president’s term from five to seven years, giving the president the power to dissolve parliament, to call early presidential elections and to appoint a first vice-president who would be his constitutional successor……

Henry Hale, a specialist on political systems in the former Soviet Union at George Washington University [and a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group], says that while authoritarian leaders rarely need to rewrite constitutions to impose their will on a nation, doing so is often a demonstration of their grip on the country. “It’s definitely not the case that the power of these leaders derives from the constitution in any direct sense,” he says. “What constitutions do is send signals as to who is dominant. It’s saying: ‘I can do whatever I like’.”

Finally, paying lip service to constitutional law allows authoritarian leaders to maintain the pretence that they subscribe to ideals of democracy, and so avoid censure from the west, the FT notes.


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