In its newly released report, Freedom House claims that first lady and vice-president Mehriban Aliyeva is expected to succeed President Ilham Aliyev in any upcoming power change in Azerbaijan.
“Any future resignation by Aliyev would leave First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva, an ally of presumably unwavering loyalty, in charge of a power structure staffed by her supporters,” the human rights watchdog says in its Nations in Transition 2020 report released on 6 May.
Mentioning the way Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev inherited power from his father in 2003 Freedom House adds, “Now there are signs that the regime is laying the groundwork for another, perhaps more predictable power transfer within the ruling family.”
“In recent years, Aliyev has reshaped the upper echelons of his power vertical, primarily to the benefit of his wife—for whom the post of “first vice president” was created in 2016—and her own family network, the so-called Pashayev clan,” the report reads.
Underlining the recent removal of “old guard” officials who oppose or at least have no allegiance to his spouse” amid the president’s downgrading reputation, while also mentioning the wavering economy and inner clan clashes, the report says that all these attempts serves for first lady Aliyev to take up the ruling post in case there is any resignation move by the president.
Baku has yet to comment, but authorities generally reject any international criticism, arguing that fundamental rights and freedoms are protected in the country.
Azerbaijan among “entrenched dictatorships”
In the meantime, Freedom House has included Azerbaijan, along with Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, into “the entrenched dictatorships of the region", stating that the ruling system in the country is a challenge towards the protection of fundamental freedoms.
“The presidents of Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan have been elevating their own relatives to positions of power and responsibility, preparing the ground for a dynastic transition. While any handover of power carries some risk in a system dominated by a single personality, the likelihood of a substantial change in governance or the observance of fundamental freedoms remains slim in the entrenched dictatorships of the region,” the report says.
Of the 29 countries covered in the report 10 are categorized as democracies, 10 as hybrid regimes while 9 others are considered authoritarian regimes.
With its 1.4 democracy score, Azerbaijan lags behind its neighbors: Armenia (3) and Georgia (3.25) are located among the hybrid or regimes in transition.