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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Azerbaijan Lawmakers Back Constitutional Referendum

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Azeri lawmakers on Monday strongly backed President Haidar Aliyev's plans for a constitutional referendum next month and dismissed opposition groups who are seeking to delay the vote.

By a 94-5 vote, deputies called on the Azeri people to actively participate in the Aug. 24 referendum on dozens of changes to the Constitution, including how the president and parliament are elected.

The statement said "some radical groups, who call themselves the opposition" had come out against the referendum but said no one could stand in the way of Azerbaijan's development.

An array of opposition groups and the U.S. State Department have called for the referendum to be delayed to allow people to be better informed about what is at stake.

One key amendment would allow a president to be elected by a simple majority, rather than two-thirds of the vote. Another change would be the way parliament is elected, eliminating the party list system that now accounts for a fifth of the seats.

Opposition parties have said the list system is important for the development of political parties in Azerbaijan, which Aliyev has ruled with a tight grip for most of the past decade. The groups have threatened to boycott the referendum unless the government postpones it, allows foreign observers to monitor the vote and gives the opposition greater access to state television.

Aliyev has refused to change the referendum date. He says the proposed changes to Azerbaijan's 1995 Constitution are needed to bring it in line with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms.

Aliyev was Azerbaijan's Communist Party boss during Soviet times and has twice been elected president in votes heavily criticized as riddled with fraud.

Now 79 and increasingly frail, Aliyev announced last month that he will seek a third term in elections scheduled for October 2003, but many analysts say he is laying the groundwork for a transfer of power to his son Ilhan, who runs Azerbaijan's state oil company.