[Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev (C) looks at his wife Mehriban Aliyeva (L) as they pose for the media. (EPA Photo)]
Baku: Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on Tuesday appointed his wife Mehriban Arif Gyzy Aliyeva as First Vice President. The latest move, after recent constitutional amendments, is seen as tightening the family’s iron grip on the oil-rich Caspian nation.
“Mehriban Arif Gyzy Aliyeva is appointed the first vice president of the Republic of Azerbaijan,” Aliyev said in a decree published on his official website.
"She is professional, educated, experienced, principled, and magnanimous," Aliyev told a National Security Council meeting.
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.
Known for her lavish tastes, Aliyeva featured prominently in US diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks.
“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,” one leaked cable said.
An eye doctor by training, she has also authored a dissertation on the ethical aspects of mercy killing.
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 thought of as 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.
Elevation of Mehriban Aliyeva -- a prominent socialite and lawmaker -- sees her now become the country's second most senior official after her husband.
Aliyeva, 52, has been an MP for the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party since 2005 and head of the influential Heydar Aliyev Foundation -- named after her father-in-law and former president.
"I believe that I will justify this confidence," she said at the security council meeting. "The interests of the country and people will always come above all else for me."
Azerbaijanis voted to amend the country's Constitution on Sept. 26, 2016. The amendments created new leadership positions, including a first vice presidency and a number of deputy presidents.
The president's term was also extended from five to seven years.
The new first vice president post also carries immunity from prosecution.