RFE/RL, April 22, 2009
Lord Acton's observation that "absolute power corrupts absolutely" still holds true, at least in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.
One month ago, the population of Azerbaijan voted in a referendum to remove the constitutional ban on one person serving more than two consecutive presidential terms. Incumbent President Ilham Aliyev, 47, who succeeded his father Heydar in 2003 and was reelected for a second five-year term last fall, is thus free to run for a third term in 2013.
The fact that the various constitutional amendments passed largely unopposed shows how over the years first Heydar and then Ilham Aliyev consolidated power by sidelining the liberal and democratic elements that survived from the first few years of independence in the early 1990s. In doing so, they largely destroyed the conditions for Azerbaijan to develop into a democratic society.
Typically, democratization succeeds when the capacity and determination of democratic forces to challenge authoritarian rule are backed by favorable conditions such as freedom of the media and of assembly, access to information, the existence of a vibrant civil society, plus support for democratization from external actors, including the United States and the European Union.