Azerbaijan’s President, Ilham Aliyev, just named his wife Mehriban, 52, to the position that was only created after constitutional reform this past September: Vice President. She will now be the person next in line in the nation’s power hierarchy.
Mehriban, who married her husband when she was 19, graduated from a medical university. She has served previously as a lawmaker and headed a charity.
If the country’s president is unable to perform their duties, the constitution now dictates that the Vice President will take over, with no parliamentary vote necessary. These duties include overseeing the Cabinet.
In explaining her qualifications, President Aliyev wrote, “it is no coincidence that the organization of the Fourth Islamic Solidarity Games due to be held this year has also been entrusted to Mehriban Aliyeva.”
She is infamous for her love of luxury, her meticulous appearance and her stylish dress. In leaked American diplomatic cables, diplomats suggested that Aliyeva had problems showing a “full range of facial expression” because of “substantial cosmetic surgery.” They also wrote that she was poorly informed about political issues.
Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev just named the country’s first-ever vice president: his wife, Mehriban 😮 pic.twitter.com/o2YrfxOHsR
— AJ+ (@ajplus) February 22, 2017
The September referendum also extended the presidential term from five years to seven, effectively cementing a dynasty. In 2003, Aliyev succeeded his father, who had ruled Azerbaijan first as the Communist Party boss and then as a post-Soviet president for nearly thirty years.
“This appointment shows disrespect to the people,” Ali Kerimli, leader of one of Azerbaijan’s opposition parties, told Reuters. “It’s the first step to the establishment of an absolute monarchy in the country.”
Azerbaijan is a Shiite Muslim nation, energy-rich and firmly allied with the West, securing their energy and security interests while offsetting Russia’s influence in the Caspian Sea region. But Aliyev’s government has long endured criticism from the West over human rights abuses and suppression of dissent.
He has cast himself as a guarantor of stability, a widely appealing image in Azerbaijan where painful memories do not feel so long gone after the turmoil of the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.
— Olesya Vartanyan (@Olesya_vArt) February 21, 2017