Before the end of September, Azerbaijan will be holding an interesting referendum on a package of proposed Constitutional Amendments that would increase the term of President from 5 to 7 years, create a post of Vice-President, that would consolidate power in the executive branch at the expense of the legislative body.
Other referenda have been held, in the past, under conditions that were not considered - by accredited observers - to be free and fair under international norms. At this time there is widespread speculation that the results of this current referendum will be falsified by the ruling elite. If adopted Azerbaijan will join nations such as Turkmenistan and Syria which are undemocratic and with seven year Presidential Terms.
There are two reasons for concern:
- The long term of rule of this country by the Aliyev family. Their control of the country predates the collapse of the Soviet Union. The first President Heydar Aliyev was the head of the Azerbaijani Division of the KGB even to the point of serving a 5 year term in the high reaches of Soviet leadership.
- After his death in 2003 he was succeeded by his son the current President Ilham Aliyev. The younger son has been distorting the balance of power by rendering the legislative branch and the judiciary subordinate to the Presidency.
Why should the West care? One reason is Oil. The Capital of Baku - located in the Caspian Sea - is a major hub for Oil Exploration, thus being a central location for some proposed pipelines and those under construction. With the prices of oil in a depressed state any, potential shock to the market will not go unnoticed.
Relations with Armenia soured earlier this year over the Armenian Enclave of Nogorno-Karabakh. Fighting in a region which is a route for one of the proposed pipelines led to the deaths of several Azerbaijani Troops. This in itself explains the Geopolitical concerns over what occurs in Azerbaijan and why ignoring it is done at one’s own peril.
The neighbors of the country are Armenia, Turkey, Iran and Russia. The events in Turkey and Iran are self-explanatory at this time. In some way the Aliyev Family love some of the Western Prestige while trying to maintain Soviet style controls on Freedom of Religion and other acts. This means they are at some odds with Moscow and Tehran. Seeing Iran and Russia support Armenia has forced Baku to seek support from the West and even Israel.
Azerbaijan has been a supporter of US efforts in Afghanistan and other areas while fighting the Islamists. This could also place it at odds with other Islamist Elements in the region as they seek to expand their influence at the expense of weak and oppressive governments. So could they become a target for their support of the “Crusaders”? That is a point to ponder.
We are going to have an election over a referendum with results that most likely will be fraudulent, Freedom of Religion and other issues are a major concern and it's in a bad neighborhood. What could go wrong?
[The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dissecting Society]