Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Family affair

How Central Asia boosts the state’s “executive will” and ensures stability of the country
2 March, 2017 - 12:05

Can power be transferred in a republic by inheritance or by family relations? In other words, can there be political dynasties in a republic? There can be. Suffice it to recall the Kennedy brothers and the Bush father and son.

Azerbaijan, too, is now showing a trend towards family-relations transfer of power.

President Ilham Aliyev has appointed his wife Mehriban as first vice-president. This office was established after the September 2016 referendum had approved amendments to the constitution. In particular, the presidential term was extended from five to seven years. Also instituted were offices of vice presidents, and age limits were canceled for the post of head of state. The office of first vice-president was vacant before the appointment of Mehriban Aliyeva.

Aliyev explained at a Security Council meeting that he had appointed his wife as first vice-president because “Aliyeva has been playing an important role in sociopolitical, cultural, and international activities for many years. On the whole, her activity is versatile and successful. I was guided by these very factors when I was making a decision to appoint her as first vice-president of Azerbaijan,” Interfax reports. The president also mentioned that Aliyeva is deputy leader of Azerbaijan’s ruling party. “She also headed the organizing committees of major international events, such as Eurovision Song Contest 2012 and European Games 2015. All these events were excellently organized. Aliyeva presides over the organizing committee of the 4th Islamic Games [to be held in May this year. – Author], and I have no doubts that these games will also be organized as best as possible,” Aliyev said.

Mehriban Aliyeva was born on August 26, 1964, in Baku. She graduated with honors from the Moscow Sechenov 1st State Medical Institute in 1988 and successfully defended a dissertation, “Euthanasia and the Problem of Humaneness in Medicine,” in 2005.

In 2004 she became the head of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation established in honor of the president who died in 2003.

Aliyeva is deputy leader of the ruling party New Azerbaijan led by her husband. She has been member of Azerbaijan’s Milli Majlis (parliament) since 2005.

She was awarded the French order Legion of Honor in 2011 and the Heydar Aliyev Order in 2015.

Mehriban has been married to Ilham Aliyev since 1983. They have three children: daughters Leila and Arza, and son Heydar.

According to Rovshan RZAYEV, deputy chairman of the Azerbaijan Parliament’s Legal Policy Committee, the institution of vice-presidents is supposed to boost the state’s “executive will.” Under the constitution, the first vice-president takes over the powers of the president if the latter is unable to discharge his duties. The new constitution also provides for the post of “ordinary” vice-president. It remains vacant so far.

There is no reason to cast doubt on Mehriban Aliyeva’s managerial and political abilities. She really showed herself as a good organizer of high-profile events in Baku and other cities. And it is quite possible that she will manage, if necessary, to substitute her husband at the helm of the state until their son Heydar grows up.

Aleksey MALASHENKO, a Carnegie Center expert, notes that the Azerbaijani establishment has long been saying that power must be held by the family and there is a need for, if not an heir, then for some additional figure to back the president – so the appointment of the wife as vice-president is normal and expectable. The main point in this decision is that power remains within one family, one dynasty.

Arif HAJILI, leader of the opposition party Musavat, believes that the appointment of the president’s wife confirms a “long-proven fact” – the formation of a “family government” in the country.

Isa GAMBAR, former presidential candidate from the Musavat party, thinks that the president’s decision “is drawing Azerbaijan to the Middle Ages, to feudalism, and may increase tension in the governmental bodies and in society as a whole.”

Azerbaijani political scientist Tawfiq ABBASOV pointed out that there had been not a single decision of the head of state which the opposition did not criticize. Mehriban Aliyeva is a creative person, while the president has had complaints about the government’s performance. Aliyeva will be able to speed up searching for new models and programs of development.

Obviously, the elites of South Caucasian and Central Asian countries are seriously concerned about the replacement of top leaders. They are afraid of unpredictable consequences in case of a sudden transfer of power which took place, for example, in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. A relatively soft transfer of power in these countries should pacify nobody. The East is a subtle thing, and anything can happen there.

It takes certain efforts to instill democratic values in the East. Incidentally, in 1918 Azerbaijan was the first Muslim state with a constitution that enshrined basic human rights, equality of men and women, and universal suffrage.

And now, following the example of Russia, where the incumbent president chooses his successor, Azerbaijan prefers stability to the likely bifurcations. To this end, power remains in the hands of a longtime ruling family.

Kazakhstan seems to be following a similar path – President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s elder daughter Dariga is assuming more and more important offices and is viewed as one the serious candidates for the highest political post.

The desire of the ruling circles to ensure stability by way of power transfer within the limits of one family has a number of drawbacks. For all the complexities of a democratic political setup, competition gives more chances to choose the right candidature of a leader. It is good if the successor possesses a range of the necessary qualities and can resist the temptation of turning into an authoritarian ruler. But he or she can also fail, and stability will then become illusory and even dangerous. The convincing proof of this are events in Arab countries.

The problem is that most of the post-Soviet states have failed to lay the groundwork for democracy in the shape of a large middle class. This is why the system of checks and balances – so effective, for example, in the US – does not work here. In spite of all his energy, President Trump is forced to take into account the representative and judicial branches of power. Judges are really independent there because in some states their bans have in fact overruled the presidential decree which they think infringes the constitutional freedoms of citizens.

We are witnessing the emergence of a new factor of contradictions in the contemporary world. It is not a conflict between Christian and Muslim civilizations but a face-off between democratic and monarchic states. And it is a question of not so much power as the world-view.

In any case, the retreat of democracy in the surrounding world is more and more visible.