The ultimate Caucasian power-couple, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Azerbaijani Vice-President Mehriban Aliyeva, postponed their upcoming elections for six months in a bid widely seen as an attempt to influence the results. This comes just short of the one-year anniversary of Ilham appointing Mehriban to the newly created post of Vice President following the results of a disputed constitutional referendum.
Game of Titles
The Vice Presidency is just one of dozens of titles and honors collected by Mehriban Aliyeva since her husband came to power in 2003. She is head of Heydar Aliyev Foundation (named after her father-in-law, the previous president), the chairperson of Azerbaijani Culture Friends Foundation, the President of Azerbaijani Gymnastics Federation, a UNESCO goodwill ambassador, and deputy chairperson of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party.
Some couples find working together creates a strain on the marital relationship, but in the case of Mehriban Aliyeva, the appointment to the Vice Presidency was a protective move for the couple. Falling oil prices have led to unrest in Azerbaijan – by making his wife his successor in case of removal Ilham hopes to ensure a easy ride if he finds himself deposed.
Ilham obviously has not kept up to date with House of Cards.
The latest move, postponing elections by six months, is being criticized as an attempt by Ilham Aliyev to secure another 7 year term. The economic crisis and unrest is growing, and the postponement is expected to result in a shortened campaign season, which would disadvantage opposition groups.
One of the candidates expected to run against the couple, Isa Gambar, told the BBC Azerbaijani service, “The authorities understand that the crisis is intensifying, and by the end of the year, discontent in society will increase, and with it the protest moods of the electorate.”
The postponement is nothing compared to the constant harassment of opposition figures, however. Legal action against democracy advocates is common, with leading figures being routinely arrested, released, and arrested again in a revolving door style action.
Mehriban Aliyeva: Friends in high places
The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States means one of Aliyev’s old friends is now the most powerful man in the world. The Trump Organization partnered with one of his allies to build a Trump Tower in the Azerbaijani capital Baku in 2012. The tower was never completed, but Donald Trump did earn $2.8 million from licensing his name to the deal. No wonder the Trumps were so keen to pose for a photo with their Azerbaijani counterparts in September.
That sort of influence will most likely come in handy for Mehriban Aliyeva eventually. Azerbaijan came in 148th in a ranking of most authoritarian regimes in an Economist Intelligence Unit survey, and the lot of former dictators (and their wives) has not been a happy one in recent years.