(Mar. 24, 2017) On February 21, 2017, the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, appointed his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, as the First Vice-President of the Republic, in accordance with newly added article 1031 of Azerbaijan’s Constitution. (Appointment by the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan of M. A. Aliyeva as the First Vice-President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Presidential Order of Feb. 21, 2017, President of Azerbaijan website; Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Constitutional Court website (last visited Mar. 15, 2017) (both in Azerbaijani).) Aliyeva also chairs Azerbaijan’s ruling political party, Yeni Azerbaijan. (Amanda Erickson, Azerbaijan’s President Has Chosen a New VP – His Wife, WASHINGTON POST (Feb. 22, 2017).)
The new offices of first vice-president and two additional vice-presidents were introduced by the constitutional amendments of September 2016. Vice-Presidents are appointed and dismissed by the President. (Referendum Act on Amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan, approved by Presidential Order of July 18, 2016 (in Azerbaijani); Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan, art. 1031.) The First Vice-President, not the Prime Minister as the Constitution had formerly prescribed, will serve as the acting president if the President resigns or is unable to serve due to incapacity or illness. Only if the First Vice-President becomes incapacitated as well will the head of state’s functions be transferred to the Prime Minister. (Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan, art. 105.) Newly added article 1061 of the Constitution guarantees the immunity of the Vice-Presidents. It is expected that the First Vice-President’s duties will include overseeing the Cabinet of Ministers, including the Prime Minister. (Azerbaijan Leader Names His Wife as Country’s First Vice President, BLOOMBERG (Feb. 21, 2017).)
The amendments of September 2016 also extended the presidential term from five years to seven. (Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan, art. 101) and removed the requirement that the president be at least 35 years of age (id. art. 100), a change that, in the opinion of observers, makes Aliyev’s 19-year-old son eligible for the office. (Erickson, supra.) Presidential term limits were abolished by a previous constitutional referendum held in 2009. (Id.; Peter Roudik, Azerbaijan: Court Removes Limits on Number of Presidential Terms, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Jan. 26, 2009).) The minimum age for election to the legislature was also lowered, from 25 years of age to 18. (Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan, art. 34.) Other amendments allow the President to schedule an early presidential election and dissolve Parliament if it votes no-confidence in the government or rejects presidential nominees to key government posts twice in one year. (Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan, art. 981.)
The European Commission for Democracy Through Law (the Venice Commission) concluded that these constitutional changes “would severely upset the balance of power and give ‘unprecedented’ control to the president.” (Azerbaijan Holds Controversial Constitutional Referendum, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty website (last updated Sept. 26, 2016.)
Prepared by Nerses Isajanyan, Foreign Law Consultant, under the supervision of Peter Roudik, Director of Legal Research.