Son of Ailing Azeri Leader Voted Prime Minister

BAKU(Reuters)–The Azeri parliament on Monday paved the way for the first dynastic succession in an ex-Soviet state–electing as prime minister the son of ailing President Haydar Aliyev.

Aliyev engineered the move a year ago in the oil-rich state on the Caspian Sea but only now–as he lies in a Turkish hospital–has it been implemented. As prime minister–his son Ilham Aliyev–41–would become interim head of state if the 80-year-old Aliyev were to die.

Opposition figures said the largely rubber-stamp assembly’s move sought to ensure that Aliyev junior won a presidential poll on October 15 and protected the interests of the Aliyev clan–which has dominated national politics for three decades.

Speaking to Russian television after the vote–Aliyev junior said: "I will telephone my father today. He is feeling better and this decision will make him very happy."

Aliyev senior–known as "baba" (grandfather) to many Azeris–became KGB chief and Communist Party boss in the 1960s in Soviet times. He returned to power as post-independence president in 1993. He and his son have both registered for the election. The president was treated for high blood pressure and broken ribs after collapsing twice during a speech in April and has undergone further treatment at a military hospital in Ankara.

BID TO "SEIZE POWER"

"We think this is an attempt to implement a neo-monarchic scenario to seize power in Azerbaijan," said Isa Gambar–a former parliament speaker and the president’s most ardent opponent as head of the Musavat party. "We want to organize resistance to this attempt to seize power."

Aliyev senior’s backers say he has brought stability to a volatile region and brokered deals with foreign oil firms. Critics accuse him of tolerating human rights abuses and corruption and say only his family profited from oil revenues.

Azeri officials insist he will return after "routine checks," but there is concern his son–a renowned former playboy with a penchant for casinos–lacks the political skills to control the bureaucracy and balance the competing interests in the region of the United States–Russia and Iran.

A graduate of Moscow’s diplomatic institute–Ilham is vice-president of the national oil company and deputy head of the ruling party. He has been heir apparent for some years.

The president’s brother Calal Aliyev–thought to have his own presidential ambitions–told ANS television: "Ilham Aliyev is the worthiest individual because of his genetic abilities–erudition–his outlook–his mild nature–his mode of life–in all–his education gained from his father–mother–grandfathers and grandmothers."

Aliyev junior won 101 votes with one abstention in the 125-seat assembly. The opposition refused to take part. In a show of support–the powerful head of the presidential administration–Ramiz Mekhtiyev–sat next to Aliyev junior.

Parliament was told outgoing prime minister Artur Rasizade had resigned for health reasons.

Gambar–a founder of the Popular Front which sought independence in Soviet times–is one of three other candidates approved for the October election.

Critics say authorities want to maintain the appearance of fair elections to appease the West but the opposition stands little chance against Ilham now that he is prime minister.

"He is not as strong as his father–but at least he now has in his hand all the tools of repression–formal and informal," said Hikmet Hajizadeh of the FAR Center for Economic and Political Research.

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