BAKU, Azerbaijan, September 22, 2016 /PRNewswire/ --
On the eve of a referendum on constitutional reforms, Azerbaijan voiced its concerns about a report by the Venice Commission, calling it "partial in its approach towards Azerbaijan."
The Venice Commission, an advisory body on constitutional law of the Council of Europe, criticised some of the 29 new constitutional provisions, including the extension of the president's term from five to seven years, noting that "such reforms may sometimes be explained by the electoral cycles of other State bodies, by long-lasting political crisis etc.; however, neither of these situations seem to apply in Azerbaijan."
Elkhan Suleymanov, a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), strongly objected this finding. "The country is at war with Armenia, which occupies one fifth of our territory for more than 20 years, almost one million internally displaced people remain an enormous burden for society, the country is affected by negative foreign influence on fundamentalism entailing possible terrorism and citizens are frightened about terrible developments in the Middle East," Suleymanov said, adding, "'these situations' clearly do apply to Azerbaijan."
According to recent surveys by U.S. polling firm Arthur J. Finkelstein and French research company Opinionway, the Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding territories is the key issue concerning voters, especially after the long-simmering hostilities escalated in April. Many international organisations, including the United Nations and European Parliament have called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian forces from the territories.
Suleymanov pointed out that the seven-year presidential mandate was common practice in France for 125 years until a recent constitutional change in 2000. It exists in nearly 30 countries, including Israel, Ireland and Italy, where the 7-year mandate of the President can be renewed indefinitely.
Suleymanov said he was puzzled by the Venice Commission criticizing the lower age limit, which would reduce the age of candidates running for president and parliament to 18 years, from 35 and 25 respectively. "The Venice Commission says that this 'may affect the overall quality of the State governance in the country,' yet the current general tendency in all European countries is to lower age limits, even as low as 16 years," Suleymanov said.
Official documents were sent out weeks ago to all postal addresses in Azerbaijan, informing citizens about the upcoming referendum, explaining the 29 proposed changes. Pre-referendum surveys indicate strong support for the constitutional reforms.
SOURCE Azerbaijan Monitor