BY EYNULLA FATULLAYEV
Yesterday, not only Azerbaijan but also the whole world was discussing the sensational decree of President Ilham Aliyev on the appointment of First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva the First Vice President of Azerbaijan. This decree has become yesterday's main event. After all, the last time the president convened the Security Council of the country in the days of fateful and bloody April war. About his landmark decision - the appointment of the first vice president in the difficult, largely seditious and full of ups and downs history of the Third Republic - the President announced at the meeting of the Security Council, surrounded by his closest associates. Apparently, Aliyev attached paramount importance to this decision.
Six months ago, President Aliyev introduced the institute of the first vice president. The most paradoxical was in the fact that the society was not lost in complex guesswork: everybody expected Mehriban Aliyeva to hold this new state post. From the first days of Ilham Aliyev's presidency Mehriban Aliyeva was perceived by the political elite and the society as a whole in the role of the second person of the country. Even without the presence of the VP institution, Mrs Aliyeva was the second among equals, and this phenomenal rise to the Olympus of power was not connected with the so-called 'access to the body,' characteristic of and due to the political mentality of the Eastern peoples. On the contrary, Mehriban Aliyeva has brought to the political and social culture of Azerbaijan a new, firstly rejected tradition of the first woman institute (first lady). She set a very high bar for the spiritual, intellectual and moral conformity.
Since the first precedent of intervention (in the best sense of the word) of the first lady in politics on the example of the wife of the first and last president of the USSR, Mehriban Aliyeva has actually become the first wife of a president in the post-Soviet space, who indicated her dominant role in politics. She captivated the country and its people with her fabulous charm, personal magnetism, a special appeal, not ostentatious, not conceited, but true charity: she has become a bridge of love between the president and the people.
Mehriban Aliyeva became a kind of a social phenomenon of Azerbaijani secularism and the informal trendsetter for the Azerbaijani society. She became the most popular Azerbaijani woman, and all the other women wanted to be like Mehriban Aliyeva: with their hairstyle with curls and feminine dresses, and sometimes combed hair stacked in a bunch, beautiful dresses and strict suits. In the public mind there appeared a kind of an idealised, infallible image of a just, unusual and delicate woman, who will help to reach the stale heart of power.
Mehriban Aliyeva broke Azerbaijanis' notions about the role and the searched place of women in the society and the elite. Poverty-stricken people, the sick, the needy, people seeking justice and law were making pilgrimages to her.
Thus, gradually, year after year, the first lady started to win the love and hearts of the larger part of the society, in sharp contrast with the image of unfeeling officials. Being a bridge between the government and the people she humanised the image of the eastern Machiavellian power. Political philosophy of Mehriban Aliyeva denied an established formula of power: not all means are justified by purpose. She broke the ideological dogmatism and system of the tribal bureaucracy.
Mehriban Aliyeva was a ray of light spiritualising Azerbaijani national politics. She has become a window for national bureaucracy to Europe. She was enthusiastically met by the Pope, she was with reverence awarded by Sarkozy, her talent as an organiser of the first European Games was noted by Putin, she was talked about with emotion in Pakistan, drawing parallels with Bhutto.
She communicated to the Aliyev government not only luster, elegance and humanity, but also justice. Paradox, but the reception room of the first lady was frequented by much larger crowds of people, whose rights were violated, than the Presidential Administration offices. There people found justice escaping from routine gobbledegook in stale bureaucratic offices.
And she connected her institute with the name of the founder of this government, National Leader Heydar Aliyev, imparting to her mission a special meaning: it is the continuation of the government. That is why people believed her and trusted more than the main pillars of the Aliyev government. She won the vote of people's confidence with justice.
Opponents of the government all this time were accusing her of interfering in the affairs of state, but Mehriban Aliyeva, just as any public guardian, did it to restore the rights and interests of oppressed and hunted citizens. She got the power and the influence thanks to her personal qualities and her struggle, and not due to the privileged status in the president's family.
And in this difficult period of history, when the country is confronted with geopolitical challenges, social tensions and political and economic stagnation, the government has called on Mehriban Aliyeva. She did not need power, because thanks to her personal authority and spiritual leadership had unlimited power over the apparatus, society and people.
Did the government need her? That is the question! Many critics and detractors of President Ilham Aliyev hurried with charges in the formation of a family personal power. Why did the president need to introduce his first lady to the political leadership? 'Succession!' is heard from the lips of the marginal opposition shouting slogans from the retrograde era of the early 1990s. But the young 56-year-old president has no need of a successor or an heir. All parallels with the fatal 2000s are inappropriate. What for? The incumbent president is full of strength, is healthy, energetic, easily manages manually the small country. And the constitution allows him to rule for many years to come, if not decades. Moreover, all these years, if Ilham Aliyev ruled, Mehriban Aliyeva represented. The opposition still cynically and foolishly misleads the society.
Of course, Mehriban Aliyeva's appearance within the political leadership of the country is also a manifestation of the doctrine of political continuity in the ruling elite. The philosophy of political continuity and the evolutionary path of renovation is the best alternative to the violent transformation that clearly manifested itself in the implementation of the colour revolutions and the Arab Spring. Naturally one might ask: why does this notorious continuity occurs in a single-family format? Yes, it could have happened within the ruling elite, but to be honest and forthright to the end, let us ask a fair question: who from the ruling elite is now more popular and closer to the people than Mehriban Aliyeva? After all, even without decrees and resolutions, Mehriban Aliyeva has anyway been the de facto second person, and in this rank she was perceived by none other than the people themselves. The president has only legalised a formality.
Moreover, Mehriban Aliyev acted as a consolidating factor of all the regional and local associations. She is supported by more than just the ruling class. She was supported by the ideological opponent of the government, Ayaz Mutalibov. Musavatist human rights activists set hopes upon her. She was lauded by the leftist opposition, and the religious community.
As for the argument about allegedly unprecedented in world history family factor (leaders of the marginal opposition were quick to speak about it), let us turn to the history of the Indian National Congress, the fate of Evita Peron, the spiritual leader of her people and by the way president's wife, glorious pages of the Kennedy family... Although, why turn to history, if before our own eyes son-in-law of the new US President, Donald Trump, 35-year-old Jared Kushner has been appointed senior adviser to the president, and former First Lady Hillary Clinton has almost become the president of a great country, and the second son of George H.W. Bush resolutely fought for the right to become president of that country, continuing the success of his father and older brother...
Today, each of us in anticipation of dramatic changes wonders, why Mehriban Aliyeva?
Fleeting and irretrievable time runs on. And the president, who finely senses the public mood and the international situation, aims at deepening the reforms and transformation in the country. It is necessary to change not only the face of power, but also its mind. Creative thinking, political innovation, a keen sense of social justice, unbreakable interactive with the society are those things, which are sometimes lacking in the neoconservative government. Bureaucratic class increasingly neglected the public confidence. And for global reforms one needs inexhaustible trust. And here, Mehriban Aliyeva is precisely the embodiment of that trust. President Aliyev called up innovation and trust to the callous government.