Aliyev junior set for Azeri presidency

Azerbaijan is poised for its first political dynasty with the president's son favourite to win elections on Wednesday.

    Observers say Ilham Aliyev's victory is a foregone conclusion

    Eighty-year-old Heider Aliyev, living out his last days in a

    clinic in the United States, has anointed his 41-year-old son, Ilham, as

    heir apparent.

    Now, backed up by a glitzy election campaign and

    the government's considerable resources, observers say Aliyev

    junior's victory is a foregone conclusion.

    But the real drama is likely to begin after the vote -

    the opposition is promising street protests if Aliyev junior wins.

    Anti-regime plots


    analysts say powerful clans inside the ruling regime will

    soon start plotting against their new, inexperienced leader.

    "The election is a fait accompli, everybody knows that," said a

    western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

    "What really counts is what happens afterwards."

    Azerbaijan's political future matters not just to the eight

    million people of this former Soviet republic on the Caspian Sea.

    Western oil companies, too, are hoping for stability. They are

    building a multi-billion-dollar pipeline which will turn the

    country into a strategic crossroads for oil exports to world


    Armed conflict

    Also, an armed conflict is still festering between Azerbaijan

    and its neighbour Armenia over the separatist enclave of


    Heider Aliyev is gravely ill in a US

    Observers fear internal political convulsions

    could lead to a renewal of hostilities, destabilising the whole


    An eight-strong field is running in the elections, but the real

    contest is likely to be between Ilham Aliyev

    and two opposition challengers - Isa Gambar and Etibar


    Aliyev junior has a strong pitch to make to voters. On the

    campaign trail he can point to the booming economy

    and the political stability bequeathed by his


    Political lightweight

    "The people support the policies of Heidar Aliyev," he said at a

    campaign rally last week. "They want stability, peace and economic

    growth and I am sure that is what will happen."

    But Ilham Aliyev's candidacy has its weaknesses. Critics say he

    is a political lightweight and point to his youthful reputation as a

    playboy who prefers parties and casinos to affairs of state.

    He is also identified by many voters with rampant corruption.

    While officials get rich on oil money, a quarter of Azerbaijan's

    children are malnourished because of poverty, according to United

    Nations figures.


    The opposition is hoping to exploit this. "Our victory is

    clear," Gambar said on Sunday. "It is clear to everyone that the people

    of Azerbaijan do not want to follow the path of Heidar Aliyev, the

    path of corruption."

    Azerbaijan is rich in oil

    Although Azerbaijan has no reliable opinion polls, observers give

    Ilham Aliyev a slim lead. The opposition is widely mistrusted and

    few people want the disruption to their lives which is expected if

    power changes hands.

    Rashad, a young professional in the capital, Baku, is typical.

    "I am backing Ilham Aliyev," he said. "I know it's absurd but I

    remember the chaos when these people who are now in opposition were

    in power in the early 1990s."



    government promises a clean vote, but complaints

    are stacking up about official

    intimidation of opposition activists and plots to rig the ballot.

    If there is a whiff of impropriety about Wednesday's vote. O

    pposition parties are already saying they will mobilise their

    supporters to protest against the results, with the worrying prospect of

    violent clashes with police.

    The newly-minted president will have another problem too -

    dealing with cliques within his own administration who

    have little respect for Ilham Aliyev and covet his


    "I think Ilham Aliyev will have a honeymoon period of a few

    weeks and then the problems will start," said the western diplomat.



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