Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 28

Reacting to President Haidar Aliev’s ailment, some circles within the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (NAP) suggest that the president’s son Ilham would be a natural and worthy successor as head of state. Ilham, 36, is first vice-president of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR).

In the last few days, laudatory articles about Ilham–in both NAP’s eponymous newspaper “Yeni Azerbaijan” and the official mouthpiece “Halg”–have advanced the case for hereditary succession to the presidency. The articles were accompanied by statements written for Western audiences by Siavush Novruzov, head of NAP’s organizational department and its youth association, and Sayad Aran, head of NAP’s ideological department. These two appear to be the main orchestrators of an incipient Ilham cult. Asserting that “young people adore him,” Novruzov suggests that NAP create the post of general secretary specifically for Ilham at the party conference this summer. “I see him as the next president,” Novruzov says.

Ilham’s adulators describe him as “genetically endowed” for the presidency, thanks to political talents presumably inherited from his father. He is also being described as familiar with both Russia and the West, a polyglot, an experienced business manager and international negotiator, possessing a unique combination of skills in today’s Azerbaijan. Ilham can, his promoters predict, outvote the “self-styled leaders” of the opposition “in an open, fair electoral contest.”

The opposition’s presidential aspirants now tend to discount the Ilham scenario. Popular Front leader Abulfaz Elchibey and Musavat leader Isa Gambar–both of whom boycotted last year’s presidential election–anticipate that Ilham would lose a free and fair contest. National Independence Party leader Etibar Mamedov, runner-up to Haidar Aliev in last year’s election, considers that the touting of Ilham as presidential successor reflects the personal views of some individuals, not an official policy (cited by Turan Press Review, February 5, 7; Turan, February 8; Reuters, February 9).

The president’s detractors had long accused him of grooming Ilham for succession. Actual indications of that, however, were few. The opposition at the same time tended to portray–and implicitly dismiss–Ilham as a mere playboy. Ilham has in fact maintained a low political profile in the country, though a somewhat higher one abroad. Last December, Ilham ruled himself out as a candidate for a leadership post in the governing party. When the president’s health problems emerged last month, raising the succession issue, Elchibey described Ilham as lacking the ambition, motivation and personality traits required for national leadership. The president, back from medical treatment in Turkey, has more than once declared that he would wait several more years before selecting a successor. The promotion of Ilham as heir apparent at this stage may represent either the initiative of a few sycophants in the party, or an early trial balloon from higher-up–two possibilities which are not mutually exclusive.