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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Azeri Court Asked to Change Election Law

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Azeri President Heidar Aliyev's government wants to cancel a provision in the electoral code that would automatically postpone presidential elections if the ailing president resigned or became incapacitated.

The Constitutional Court agreed Friday to consider a request by the Prosecutor General's Office that would ensure that the Oct. 15 presidential election goes ahead as planned, the state information agency Azertaj reported.

Analysts and opposition groups said Saturday that the proposed change reflects the government's confidence that Aliyev's son Ilham is already well-placed to succeed his father as president.

Heidar Aliyev, 80, is hospitalized with heart and kidney problems at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, and rumors persist that his health is too precarious to survive a presidential campaign or take on another term. Critics say he is maneuvering to hand over power to his son.

But the presidential chief of staff said Saturday that Aliyev was regaining his health.

"His health is better, improving day by day, and the doctors are giving good prognoses. ... Heidar Aliyev is in control of the situation in the country," Ramiz Mehtiyev said.

Ilham Aliyev was named prime minister last Monday and he is already registered as a presidential candidate, although the pro-government party Eni Azerbaijan insists that the incumbent president's health is improving and he still plans to seek re-election. Ilham Aliyev has said he is on the ballot only to be of more help in his father's campaign.

Under current Azeri law, if the president dies or resigns, the prime minister becomes acting president. The electoral code stipulates that if this happens during a presidential election campaign, the race must be halted and a special election called within three months.

The Constitutional Court has said that it will take another look at the electoral code provision at its session next Friday.

The opposition had initially criticized the electoral code rule, which it said was slipped belatedly into the code in violation of democratic norms. Opposition leaders at the time called it an attempt to buy time for the pro-government candidate to secure his position.

Now critics said that with Ilham Aliyev registered as a candidate and in place as prime minister, the president's political supporters do not feel like they need the extra time.

"Today the authorities completely support a speedy election marathon, the result of which they hope somehow or other to seat Ilham Aliyev in the president's chair," said Ilgar Mammadov, deputy chairman of the opposition Party of National Independence. "It is clear that if the Constitutional Court cancels this provision ... it would limit the opposition's time to criticize Ilham Aliyev."

At a protest rally Friday that attracted about 10,000 people in Baku, opposition leader Isa Gambar accused Heidar Aliyev of trying to establish a virtual "monarchy" and warned that the moves could encourage authoritarian leaders in Central Asia to try to seize more power. Police broke up the rally and arrested seven participants, all members of the opposition party Musavat. The head of a rights organization was also detained.