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Page last updated at 16:35 GMT, Tuesday, 14 October 2003 17:35 UK

Aliyev and son keep it in the family


By Stephen Mulvey
BBC News Online

Azerbaijan has become the first post-Soviet state to see a transfer of power from father to son.

Heydar Aliyev
Father: Aliyev senior has brought stability and petrodollars
Heydar Aliyev, 80, who has spent the last three months in hospitals abroad, bowed out of the presidential election two weeks before polling day - but had taken the precaution of enrolling his son, Ilham, as a candidate.

"Ilham Aliyev will be able to complete the crucial works and plans that I launched and could not complete," said Heydar Aliyev in a message from his US hospital bed on 2 October.

"I call on you, my fellow countrymen, to vote for my political successor."

In a country where GDP growth for the last six to seven years has been 10% annually, the ruling party usually wins elections
Ilham Aliyev
What the Azeri people think of this arrangement is hard to tell. Opinion polls are contradictory and the election result does not necessarily provide an answer, given the country's record of fraudulent elections.

Many commentators acknowledge that Ilham Aliyev is the ultimate "continuity candidate" and he appeals to the mass of voters who fear nothing more than instability.

Ilham Aliyev
Son: Aliyev junior is benefiting from the country's economic success
Stability is what Mr Aliyev senior has brought to Azerbaijan in the last 10 years. Stability and massive foreign investment in the oil sector, which has fuelled a surge in economic growth.

"In a country where GDP growth for the last six to seven years has been 10% annually, the ruling party usually wins elections," Ilham Aliyev said at his last rally before polling day.

There is a huge contrast between the Azerbaijan of today and the country ex-Politburo member Heydar Aliyev took over in 1993, in a remarkable political comeback.

The country had just lost its struggle to hold on to the disputed territory of Nagorny Karabakh, and stood on the brink of civil war.

Social injustice

However, the wealth that has flooded into the country in the last decade has not benefited the mass of ordinary citizens - not to mention the hundreds of thousands of destitute refugees from Karabakh and the surrounding occupied territories.

If the regime tries to falsify the results of the vote, against the will of the people, the people will rise up
Isa Gambar, Musavat Party leader
A widespread sense of social injustice has helped to keep alive the prospects of opposition figures like Isa Gambar, leader of the Musavat party, and Etibar Mamedov, of the National Independence Party, who was the runner-up in the last presidential election, in 1998.

In that election, Heydar Aliyev was declared winner with 76% after the first round of voting.

Most observers suspected that his true share of the vote was less than 50%, and that the election should have gone to a second round - though they also granted that he would then have won comfortably.

This time round, the opposition vowed not to let the result go unchallenged.

"If the regime tries to falsify the results of the vote, against the will of the people, the people will rise up, and it will be legal," Isa Gambar said in the closing stages of the campaign.

Street protests have toppled leaders in Azerbaijan before - but the opposition's power to mobilise overwhelming people power has waned over the years.

Also, the loyalties of the police and armed forces are now apparently undivided.

The Aliyev clan looks set to continue in power unless perhaps it splits - and this seems unlikely as long as Mr Aliyev remains alive, and well enough to play the role of the power behind the throne.

Stephen Mulvey is a former BBC Caucasus correspondent, and was an OSCE observer at the November 2000 parliamentary election.

SEE ALSO
Azerbaijan's 'royal' succession
04 Aug 03 |  Europe
Profile: Heydar Aliyev
21 Apr 03 |  Europe
Country profile: Azerbaijan
09 Jul 03 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Azerbaijan
09 Jul 03 |  Country profiles

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