Azerbaijan's Aliyev appoints First Lady next in line of succession

Azerbaijan's Aliyev appoints First Lady next in line of succession
The appointment of Mehriban Aliyeva indicates the growing political power of Pasha Holding, the family business empire founded by her father
By bne IntelliNews February 22, 2017

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev appointed his wife as First Vice President on February 21 in a move that some critics might say appeared to have been taken out of popular Netflix series "House of Cards". In Azerbaijan, politicians and the media rushed to congratulate Mehriban Aliyeva, who now occupies the position that is next in line to that of the president.

Aliyeva's appointment became possible as per the results of a constitutional referendum in September, in which voters supported the expansion of presidential powers and the head of state's ability to decide on his line of succession. The appointment was to be expected, despite obvious conflicts of interest. Furthermore, Aliyeva's appointment is indicative of the fact that Pasha Holding, the family business empire founded by her father, is gaining ground in political power circles.

This is the second victory for Pasha Holding in the last week. On February 13, Aliyev dismissed previously powerful transport minister Ziya Mammadov, replacing him with the younger Ramin Guluzade. Guluzade built his career at the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, an ostensibly non-governmental charity that Aliyeva chairs, and which Pasha Holding is said to control. He is largely perceived to be a "Pashayev man".

Mammadov's replacement calls into question the future of other "oligarch ministers" - powerful ministers that have served in their positions for over a decade and have built business empires benefitting from their positions. Foremost among them is Kamaladdin Heydarov, the current emergency situations minister and former head of the customs service.

Rumours flew in Baku after Aliyeva's appointment about a power struggle between Pasha Holding and the oligarchs. The current opposition to Pasha Holding's expansion in politics reportedly comprises of oligarchs like Heydarov and the powerful presidential chief of staff, Ramiz Mehdiyev.

Aliyeva is known for her youthful looks and haute couture sense of fashion. In addition to chairing the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, which the Azerbaijani government has used as a tool to further its agenda in and outside of the country, she has also served as an MP since 2005. However, she is said to rarely attend parliamentary sessions.

US State Department cables leaked by Wikileaks in 2010 described her as being "poorly informed about political issues".

In a statement to the national security council on February 21, Aliyeva promised her husband and the other members that she will "once again, justify the confidence" placed in her.