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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, near Baku.

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 criticizing her.

"She could be like Argentina's Eva Peron or Hillary Clinton. But in contrast to Hillary Clinton, she is happy in her private life."

Source: The Moscow Times

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