Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev is pushing ahead with plans to pass power to his son, Ilham. The younger Aliyev's elevation to senior deputy chairman of the ruling party places him in direct line to succeed his father as president. Opposition leaders, however, say a lack of political experience will make it difficult for Ilham to remain in power once the elder Aliyev passes from the political stage.
Ilham Aliyev's promotion to the number two spot in the political hierarchy occurred November 21 during the well-orchestrated congress of the ruling New Azerbaijan (Yeni Azeraycan) Party. The congress vote on Ilham's elevation was unanimous.
After the Party Congress, an editorial in the leading opposition newspaper Yeni Musavat said: "The [ruling] clan took another step toward the realization of its successor plan. It turned out that the plan, whose existence the clan had always denied, indeed exists."
The Zerkalo daily described the gathering as stage-managed according to "the best traditions of the Congress of Communist Party of Soviet Union." Several speakers venerated father and son with praise for "the great achievements of President Aliyev and his son, Ilham." At one point when members were endlessly applauding their leader, some participants shouted, "Long Live Ilham Aliyev."
Party secretary Ali Ahmedov credited Ilham Aliyev with inspiring young people to join the ruling party, boosting membership since the previous congress in 1999 by over 40 percent to 230,000. Some analysts said membership statistics are misleading because most civil servants and professionals, including doctors, face pressure to join the party to ensure the possibility of career advancement.
The ruling party also reelected Heidar Aliyev as its chairman. While delegates went on to name Heidar Aliyev as the party's candidate for the 2003 presidential elections, "it was clear to everyone that the regime had chosen Ilham," Zerkalo wrote. The elder Aliyev, in a speech that lasted 2 hours and 17 minutes, delivered a deliberate rebuke, as he himself described it, to those who questioned the state of his health.
He attacked opposition media and called upon members of his party to stage an active political campaign against the opposition. The resolution adopted at the congress called on ruling party members to "struggle against opposition newspapers."
In his own address to delegates, Ilham Aliyev characterized opposition leaders as "anti-people and anti-state." He also made it clear that he intended to succeed his father: "We will be in power forever. Azerbaijan's future is connected with the YAP [party], Heidar Aliyev and his policies," Ilham said.
Opposition leaders were dismissive of the threats leveled at them. Isa Gambar, Chairman of the opposition Musavat Party, described the congress as a "government's fiasco."
The elder Aliyev is a political veteran who was a member of the Communist Party's Politburo and also served as Azerbaijan's KGB chief during the Soviet era. He has repeatedly drawn on those political skills, using them to orchestrate his own comeback to assume the presidency in 1992, and, more recently, to promote a dynastic succession. Aliyev has sought to consolidate his son's authority by appointing him to a variety of positions, including vice president of the State Oil Company; chairman of Azerbaijan's National Olympic Committee and head of the country's Council of Europe delegation.
Gambar asserted that despite the appearance of unanimity at the congress, the ruling party is riven by internal rivalries. He added that Ilham Aliyev's lack of political skills would leave him unable to keep the ruling party together. "The same people still remain in the leadership of the party. They don't trust each other and they don't believe in Ilham's future."
Just days after Ilham Aliyev's promotion, Azerbaijani security agents announced that they had uncovered a plot to assassinate him. According to November 28 news reports, authorities claimed that a former Azerbaijani POW from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Magomed Ojaqverdiyev, had been trained by Armenian agents to make an attempt against Ilham's life. Ojaqverdiyev claimed he had been "physically" coerced to participate in the assassination plot, which allegedly targeted the younger Aliyev and other Azerbaijani politicians.
Armenian officials dismissed the claim of Yerevan's involvement in an assassination plot as "an outright provocation," according to the Armenian Mediamax news agency. Armenian officials said the Azerbaijani claim was designed to link Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh with terrorism, and therefore win increased international support for Baku in Karabakh peace negotiations. Talks on a Karabakh settlement are stalemated. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archives].
Kenan Aliev is a journalist based in Washington, DC.