By Oladipupo Mojeed with agency report
Azerbaijani President, Ilham Aliyev, has appointed his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva as the nation’s first vice-president.
The latest move is seen as tightening the family’s iron grip on the oil-rich Caspian nation.
Mehriban Aliyeva “is appointed the first vice president of the Republic of Azerbaijan,” the leader said in a decree published on his website.
52-year-old Aliyeva is a prominent socialite who has been a ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party lawmaker since 2005 and head of the influential Heydar Aliyev Foundation; named after her father-in-law and former president.
Born into the powerful Pashayev family, she has sometimes been seen as a possible successor to her husband, who took over in 2003 after the death of his father Heydar, a former KGB officer and Communist-era boss.
The appointment follows constitutional changes made after a tightly-managed referendum last year that introduced the powerful position of first vice president. Such steps were denounced by regime opponents as a ploy to cement the Aliyev family’s dynastic rule.
Azerbaijan’s embattled opposition angrily criticized Aliyeva’s elevation as undemocratic.
“The move throws Azerbaijan back to medieval, feudal times,” opposition leader Isa Gambar of Musavat party told AFP.
“Family rule has no place in the 21st century,” he added.
First lady of fashion
Known for her lavish tastes, Aliyeva featured prominently in US diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks, one of which dubbed her “a first lady, too, in fashion”.
“First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva appears to have had substantial cosmetic surgery, presumably overseas, and wears dresses that would be considered provocative even in the Western world,” the leaked 2010 cable said.
An eye doctor by training, she has also authored a dissertation on the ethical aspects of mercy killing.
The Aliyevs have two daughters Leyla, 32, and Arzu, 27, a student son, Heydar, 19, and four grandchildren.
The president, 55, cruised to a third five-year term against limited opposition in 2013, extending his family’s rule into a third decade.
Supporters have praised the Aliyevs for turning a republic once considered a Soviet backwater into a flourishing energy supplier to Europe.
But critics argue they have crushed all opposition and used their power to amass a fortune that funds a lavish lifestyle for the president and his family.
Activists have raised concerns over Azerbaijan’s poor rights record, with Human Rights Watch in May blasting the country for a ruthless crackdown that has seen political activists and critical journalists jailed.
“President Ilham Aliyev is the person most responsible for Azerbaijan’s appalling human rights record of the last decade,” Freedom House, a pro-democracy watchdog, has said.