The Hillary Clinton of Azerbaijan
Mehriban Aliyeva has a new hat to wear this
week, and it's not from Paris. Aliyeva -- variously described
as Azerbaijan's fashion icon, tireless charity organizer and
savvy behind-the-scenes adviser to her husband, President Ilham
Aliyev -- is about to take her place in the new parliament after
officially winning 92 percent of the vote in her hometown district,
It is not yet clear what role she will play
in the parliament, which was elected in a controversial vote
that Western observers said was tainted with widespread irregularities
and that the opposition has vowed to overturn.
But it will give her a prominence that few
first ladies can boast, and it has invited comparisons to Hillary
Clinton, Raisa Gorbacheva and Eva Peron.
Aliyeva, who dresses in the latest fashions
from Europe, is also fast becoming an important player in the
Byzantine world of Azeri politics, where powerful pro-government
clans compete for a slice of the country's burgeoning oil wealth.
Some already see Aliyeva, 41 -- an eye doctor by profession
-- as carving out a role for herself independent of her husband,
who has strived to shake off a playboy image since coming to
power in 2003.
Some talk of Aliyeva being a future parliament
speaker or heading the country's delegation to the Council of
Europe. A few even say she could eventually take over as president
to continue the Aliyev family dynasty.
With the highest official vote in all 125 parliamentary
seats, her popularity now is sky-high among government supporters,
who see in her someone unsullied by the image of corruption
that taints many politicians and officials.
One of Aliyeva's unabashed fans is Sergei Markov,
the Kremlin-connected spin doctor who was in Baku for Sunday's
vote. "People love her very much," Markov said Thursday.
"She is extremely beautiful, very smart, and she's in the
strange position of having only a positive image. No one has
anything bad to say about her -- even the opposition avoids
"She could be like Argentina's Eva Peron
or Hillary Clinton. But in contrast to Hillary Clinton, she
is happy in her private life."