Tuesday, February 21 2017 17:30 EET
Aliyev Appoints Wife As First Vice President Of Azerbaijan
Aliyev, Appoints, Wife, As, First, Vice, President, Azerbaijan,

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has appointed his wife as first vice president, a newly created post that puts her first in line to take over if the president dies or is incapacitated.

Aliyev's order appointing his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, was posted on the presidential website on February 21.

Mehriban Aliyeva, 52, is a deputy chairwoman of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party. She is also the head of the Heidar Aliyev Foundation -- a large nongovernmental organization named after her husband's father, who ruled newly independent Azerbaijan with an iron fist in 1993-2003. He died in December 2003, two months after steering his son into the presidency.

Ilham Aliyev, 55, has been accused by right groups and Western governments of persecuting opposition politicians, human rights defenders, and journalists, and of enhancing his power though elections and referendums that have not been deemed free or fair by international observers.

The positions of first vice president and two lower-tier vice presidents were among the constitutional amendments introduced in a referendum in the tightly controlled Caspian Sea country in September 2016.

The referendum was challenged by opposition politicians and activists who argued that it tightened Aliyev's grip on power in the oil-rich former Soviet republic.

Aliyev has shrugged off those accusations, as well as allegations of nepotism and corruption within his family.

The constitution now stipulates that if the president becomes incapable of discharging his duties, the first vice president takes over. Before the referendum, it was the prime minister.

The referendum also extended the length of presidential terms from five years to seven years and scrapped an age requirement for candidates, sparking speculation that Aliyev was grooming his son Heidar, who was 19 years old at the time, to eventually become president.

In 2002 and 2009, Azerbaijan also held much-criticized constitutional referendums that opposition acitivists and rights defenders said directly benefited the Aliyev family.

After the 2002 referendum, future referendums required a turnout of just 50 percent to be valid. It also designated the prime minister, instead of the parliament speaker, as the presidential successor.

The 2009 referendum removed the two-term limit of the president and introduced a clause on "the right of personal immunity," which activists and journalists interpreted as a move to prevent journalists from investigating corruption or covering public events.

Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, said on February 21 that a "wave of arrests preceded Mehriban Aliyeva's appointment" as first vice president.

In a Facebook post, she said that several opposition activists were sentenced to one-month terms of administrative arrest, in what she speculated was an effort to preempt protests over the appointment.

Ismaiylova spent 17 months in prison in 2015-16 over financial crimes charges that she and supporters say were government revenge for her reporting on alleged corruption involving Aliyev and his relatives.

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