Ex-Soviet Azerbaijan on Tuesday (26 July) set 26 September as the date for a referendum on constitutional changes that would hand extra powers to long-running President Ilham Aliyev.
The amendments, which have already been cleared by the oil-rich Caucasus country’s Constitutional Court, would extend the president’s term in office from five to seven years.
They would also create a powerful new first vice-president position and several other vice-presidencies.
State media published the proposed changes on Tuesday after the Constitutional Court approved them a day earlier, obliging the president to call a referendum within 60 days.
Aliyev has led the oil-rich country since his father Heydar, a former Communist-era boss, died after a decade in power in 2003.
Ilham Aliyev, 54, last won a landslide election victory in 2013 despite OSCE observers pointing to significant problems with the vote, with the next elections to be held in 2018.
He can stand for an unlimited number of terms after a disputed referendum in 2009 scrapped the two-term limit on presidential mandates.
If passed the referendum would introduce a new position of first vice president – who would become the country’s number two, instead of the prime minister as is the case now.
The amendments also allow the president to call snap elections and permit anyone over 18 to stand for parliament, bringing the lower age limit down from 25.
Azerbaijan, a majority-Muslim but secular country wedged between Iran and Russia on the Caspian Sea, has sought to position itself as a modern European state.
It hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012 and this year hosted its maiden Formula One race in Baku.
But rights activists have raised concerns over its rights record, with Human Rights Watch in May criticising the country for “cracking down on human rights activists and critical journalists”.
Amnesty International has slammed “reprisals against independent journalists and activists.”
- 26 September 2016: Referendum on proposed constitutional changes.