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Azerbaijan passing through referendum

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On 18th March in a nationwide referendum aimed at amending country's constitution Azerbaijan went to ballot box to decide whether to remove two-term limit imposed for holders of the Presidential office. The referendum, especially changes proposed for lifting presidential term limits from constitution stirred much controversy from the very beginning. In January, in my Frontline blog I wrote in particular:

With three international radios silenced on national frequencies, the country heads for a nationwide referendum to decide whether to lift constitutional obstacles to re-election of someone for the office of the President more than two times. With the parliamentary proposal made on the 19th of December, Constitutional Court's approval five days later, and the decision of the Parliament made on 26th of December, the whole procedure took only seven days, and the referendum is set for March 18, 2009.

Erkin Gadirli, a prominent jurist in Azerbaijan wrote in his personal blog in February:

Making laws is a very complex issue. In parliament it goes through three steps. Sometimes discussions about bills take years. But in referendum people is asked to decide on complex judicial matters and during a short time. How can people make a serious decision on issues which even jurists can't have common opinion about? [...]

These initiative of "YAP's" [New Azerbaijan Party] for amending the constitution corresponds to a period when anxious with falling oil prices Russia and Venezuela hold a similar constitutional amendments about presidential term limits. This is what we actually witness. And it creates not a favorable background. Can a process with an unfavorable background lead to favorable results?

Read how Azeri and foreign bloggers reacted to the referendum in my Global Voices Online post.


Ani | March 21, 2009 3:48 PM

An important, intriguing and sure to be highly controversial book about elections and democracy has just been published: "Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places" by Paul Collier (Harper/Harper Collins). It's controversial because of his prescriptions, more than his reporting.

Here's a link to tomorrow's New York Times book review, and a few quotes from it:


These days no self-respecting government wants to present itself on the world stage without the legitimacy of a democratic mantle. Elections are now de rigueur, even if many a despot rejects the idea of actually abiding by voter preferences.
They get away with this charade in part because the Western democracies that might be expected to demand the real thing have economic and strategic incentives to settle for farce. Rather than insist on the elements of democracy that make it meaningful — a free press, a vigorous civil society, the rule of law, a fair and transparent process for counting ballots — they close their eyes to electoral travesty.

The West’s mistaken fixation with elections, according to Collier, has mainly to do with lingering cold war habits. The Soviet dread of the ballot, he writes, “confused us into thinking that achieving a competitive election is in itself the key triumph. The reality is that rigging elections is not daunting: only the truly paranoid dictators avoid them.”

Still, electoral shortcomings in these countries do not mean we should give up on democracy altogether. It’s the cheap imitation that should give us pause. As Collier explains, “democracy is a force for good” as long as it is more than a ­“facade.”