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Mirza Khazar: Aliev And The Fight For A Successor

Mirza Khazar 24 Sep 2006

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ilhamxThere is no doubt that most of the recent commentaries that have appeared in opposition newspapers about Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's health and his designs to have his son, Ilham, succeed him as president contain some exaggerated or at least partially biased ideas.
It is not surprising, since an attempt by a weak opposition to wage it's campaign against the 78-year-old president using propaganda might be considered a "natural" form of politics in Azerbaijan.
Nevertheless, there is little doubt and too many indications that the fight to be Aliev's successor has begun in Azerbaijan. Rumors, reports, and commentaries on this subject are persistent. And Aliev's poor appearance on TV screens is too obvious to doubt that his health is not good -- contrary to what he and his son claim or what the official media tells the public. The Turkish TV Channel D, in a report on 26 April on the summit of Turkic-speaking countries, described the appearance of the Azerbaijani president in an unusually blatant manner: "Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's gaunt appearance drew the attention of many people."
The remark is neither diplomatic nor polite, of course. But it might serve as an indicator of a new approach of in the Turkish media and perhaps the Turkish government towards Aliev. This fact is, of course, an external nuance of the fight to be Aliev's heir that is going on in Azerbaijan. It might have and might not have an impact on the battle for succession, since not Turkey, but maybe Russia and Iran also are interested to have their own "input" into this process. But there is no doubt that the main game is being played in Baku.
Aliev continues to show his determination to have Ilham succeed him as president. In his remarks at the Baku airport on 25 April before his flight to Ankara, Aliev praised Ilham's "great" speech in Strasbourg at a session of the Council of Europe. The Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo," in a commentary on 26 April, showed confidence that the time has arrived for the anointed successor (Ilham) to appear in public. "The successor has been chosen and the only issue on agenda is to legitimize him," comments the paper.
It seems "Zerkalo" is right. The time is arriving. But there are a lot of problems and difficulties in getting a transition of power to occur at the right time. Aliev's decision to have his son be the next president angered and frightened many of his close allies within his own elite from the Nakhichevan "club." Judging from reports published in the local press, a fierce struggle to neutralize potential contenders -- Ramiz Mehtiev, the president's chief of staff, Ali Insanov, the health minister, and Kamaladdin Heidarov, head of the powerful state customs committee, are in the center of this ongoing infighting. According to some observers in Baku, Aliev's decision to tab his son as the heir apparent not only prompted a fight within the Nakhichevan "clan" for succession, but alienated most of his supporters among those people from Nakhichevan. Therefore, according to the same sources, even if Aliev succeeds to have his son appointed or elected as the next president, the new president will fail to have strong support among from not only the general public, but also from his own "kinsmen" from Nakhichevan.
This is considered to be the main weakness of Ilham. Therefore, a common question being asked in Baku in this regard is: How could Ilham Aliev survive in power without the support from his own "clan," which his father enjoyed for about 30 years? And the questions continue: Will Ilham be able to stay in power for a long time, as his father did? What can Azerbaijan expect from Ilham, if his father manages to bring him to power? How would the main outside players in the Caucasus -- Russia, the West, Iran, and Turkey react to such a power transition in Azerbaijan? And finally, will the opposition in Baku and some opposition leaders in exile actually accept this form of "natural" succession in Azerbaijan or not? These are the questions of the day. The answers will come and most likely rather soon.
(Mirza Khazar - 27 April 2001)
RFE/RL Azerbaijan Report

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