“Mehriban Aliyeva has been appointed First Vice-President of the Republic of Azerbaijan by President Ilham Aliyev’s order.”
No, you are not tuned into the Netflix original political drama House of Cards. This, unfortunately, is real life—straight from a statement released by the office of Azerbaijan’s President earlier today, which officially appointed Azerbaijan’s First Lady as the country’s new Vice-President.
Aliyev’s move, which has been criticized by many and is still being digested by many more, is the authoritarian leader’s latest quest for further power that was in the books when he initiated a referendum in his country last September.
Not only did he successfully extend presidential terms to seven years (previously, Azerbaijani presidential terms were five years—not that it matters… The Aliyev’s have had a stronghold on power in the country since 1993), he also made sure to create an office of the Vice-President and two Vice-Presidential posts. It should come as no surprise that Aliyeva will serve as First Vice-President
Prior to establishment of the new position, the duties of the First Vice-President were entrusted to the country’s Prime Minister, who is now pushed a little further down the Azerbaijani hierarchy.
Of course, it was decided that both occupants of the Vice-Presidential office would be appointed and dismissed by the president. Would Mr. Aliyev have it any other way?
Which brings us to today’s decision: the appointment of the First Lady—a Member of Azerbaijan’s Parliament, who, according to WikiLeaks documents, chooses not to attend Parliament’s sessions— to the second-highest constitutional office in Azerbaijan.
“Embassy monitors, who have attended nearly every session over the past year, have never seen her present in Parliament,” read one leaked U.S. diplomatic cable, which was released a few years ago. Another revealed that she appears to be “poorly informed about political issues,” and that her family has accumulated immense wealth through its several business interests throughout the country.
Shortly after accepting her new post, the newly appointed First Vice-President expressed her “deep gratitude” to the President for his confidence in her. “I believe that I will be able to justify this confidence shown by you, Mr. President, and all the people who believe in me,” Aliyeva said.
In season four of House of Cards, the cunning, often ruthless fictional U.S. President Frank Underwood’s wife Claire wins the Democratic Nomination for the Vice-Presidency, and ends up on her husband’s election ticket.
So what gives, Mr. Aliyev? Did you really think this was a good idea for the country—a step in the right direction—or have the Underwoods really played with your head?
Sadly, what is going on in Azerbaijan is not television fiction, nor is it an example of what has recently come to be known as “fake news.” Aliyev’s decision is only his latest move in a carefully orchestrated tightening of a grip of power that dates back decades—a grip on power that has made the Aliyev family quite wealthy over the years.
According to documents discovered by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), the President’s family has more than $3 billon (USD) in at least eight Azerbaijani banks and their overall assets are estimated to be much higher, with much of their wealth invested outside of the country. (Good thing the Vice-President has full immunity and cannot be arrested, charged, or sentenced during his or her term…)
And as the Aliyevs continue to extend their power and increase their bank accounts, freedoms of expression, assembly, and association continue to deteriorate drastically year after year under their rule.
Violations in elections, the rise of corruption, and politically motivated prosecutions, as well as a severe lack of freedom of the press, has made Azerbaijan among the world’s biggest violators of basic human rights.
Will any of this change with Aliyeva’s promotion? You don’t have to be a House of Cards fan to know the answer.
At least on the show, the First Lady was democratically nominated…not appointed by her husband.