(Jan. 26, 2009) On December 24, 2008, the Constitutional Court of Azerbaijan ruled that amendments to the nation's Constitution passed by the legislature on December 19, 2008, are constitutional and eligible for confirmation by the electorate in a popular referendum scheduled for February 2009. Twenty-six of the amendments abrogate the existing provision prohibiting an incumbent President from serving more than two terms of office. Other amendments allow cancellation of presidential and parliamentary elections if national military forces are involved in actions at home and abroad, provide for the right of legislative initiative to groups of at least 40,000 voters, and prohibit employment of individuals under 15 years of age.
The ruling, which stated that the right of an individual to run for the office of President as well as the right of citizens to vote for the candidate of their choice as often as he or she runs cannot be restricted, was issued by the Court on the incumbent President's birthday and is viewed by law experts as a gift to the President, allowing him to serve an indefinite number of terms. (Ilya Azar, V Azii Sroki ne Schitayut [Terms Are Not Counted in Asia], Dec. 24, 2008, available at http://www.gazeta.ru/politics/2008/12/24_a_2917195.shtml. Incumbent President Ilhom Aliyev was elected for a five-year term in October 2008 by what was officially reported as 88 percent of the eligible voters, although these results are disputed by the political opposition and international observers. The elimination of limits on presidential terms has become a trend in the states of the former Soviet Union. In May 2007, similar constitutional amendments were passed in Kazakhstan, following the lead of other Central Asian states. (Constitutional Court of Azerbaijan Allowed to Remove Limits on Presidential Terms [in Russian], NOVOSTI, Dec. 24, 2008, available at http://www.gazeta.ru/news/lastnews/2008/12/24/n_1312078.shtml.)