Azerbaijan’s parliament voted to dissolve itself last week, triggering legislative elections on Feb. 9. Some observers speculate that the move sets the stage for President Ilham Aliyev to eventually hand over power to his wife, First Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva. She has assumed a much higher profile on policy issues in the past few years, most recently highlighted by a six-day solo diplomatic mission to Moscow in late November. It is unclear why Aliyev would want to transfer power, but he has been in office for more than 15 years, and the opposition has peddled unsubstantiated rumors about his health.

Azerbaijani politics are opaque, and dynastic succession has been the norm: Aliyev took over as president from his father, Heydar Aliyev, in 2003. The recent dissolution of the largely rubber-stamp parliament could be the first stage of another undemocratic transfer of power. But behind the rumors of succession, there are a series of deeper and more revealing shifts taking place in Azerbaijan today. While the country will not become a Western-style liberal democracy anytime soon, recent trends point to a society that is changing—and a government that may now recognize the need to change along with it....

Read Full Text

This piece was originally published in the World Politics Review.