Azerbaijan moves to scrap presidential term limits
By Aida Sultanova

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) -
Azerbaijan's parliament voted Friday to scrap presidential term limits, potentially prolonging a dynasty that has led the oil-rich Caspian Sea country for 15 years.

Parliament, dominated by allies of President Ilham Aliyev, overwhelmingly backed a proposal for a nationwide referendum that would also postpone elections in the event of war. The vote was 95 to 4, with one abstention.

Aliyev won a second five-year term by a landslide in October, but the vote was boycotted by the opposition and criticized by international observers as falling short of democratic standards. He succeeded his father, who ruled Azerbaijan as the Communist Party boss during the Soviet times and then as president from 1993-2003.

The authoritarian leader's beleaguered critics say scrapping the current limit of two straight terms would be undemocratic. The opposition party Umid said Thursday that it would violate the country's international commitments to uphold political freedoms.

The U.S. and European Union are courting Azerbaijan because of its Caspian Sea oilfields and strategic location along a corridor for westward energy exports bypassing Russia and the Mideast. They have expressed concern, however, about the government's treatment of opponents and the media.

The proposed amendments face a review by Azerbaijan's Constitutional Court, after which parliament would set a date for a vote. Past election results indicate approval would be likely, but a vote could prompt opposition protests.

The timing of the initiative may signal government concerns that the global economic troubles and the plunging drop in the price of oil, Azerbaijan's main export, could weaken its position.

Other oil-rich ex-Soviet republics have implemented similar changes. Lawmakers in Kazakhstan last year waived term limits for the long-ruling president, and the Kremlin is moving to extend the presidential term in Russia from four years to six.

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