Pre-election situation in Azerbaijan
By Vestnik Kavkaza
A certain intrigue has appeared ahead of the presidential elections in Azerbaijan. A major part of the Azeri opposition, which includes the key opposition parties Musavat and People’s Front, overcame their traditional differences and united into the National Council of Democratic Forces. Moreover, the new entity managed to present a united candidate, despite the pessimistic predictions of analysts. The candidate is screenwriter and film director Rustam Ibragimbekov, who turned from a silent supporter of the current authorities into their radical opponent. The Azerbaijani opposition needed a neutral figure they could unite behind.
At the same time, neither Ali Kerimli (People’s Front) nor Isa Gambar (Musavat) nor Eldar Namazov (EL Movement) who deal with politics for decades would bet on a powerful leader with his own political weight and electorate. From this point of view, a respected artist, but inexperienced politician Rustam Ibragimbekov was perfect for the role of the common candidate.
However, the political inexperience of the opposition candidate can also have drawbacks. It was confirmed by a recent interview given by Ibragmibekov to the Azerbaijani office of Radio Svoboda. Ibragimbekov promised to “shut the months” of journalists who he said write unfairly.
Meanwhile, Inbragimbekov may have problems with registration in the Central Election Committee. The screenwriter is not only an Azerbaijani citizen, but also a citizen of Russia. Even though Iragimbekov has already requested rejection of his Russian citizenship to take part in the Azerbaijani elections, the procedure will take a half of a year. This may be too long.
According to the Azerbaijani law, a presidential candidate should not have commitments to other states. Therefore, the Azerbaijani state has reasons for rejecting Ibragimbekov’s registration. Considering the circumstance, Musavat decided not to withdraw its leader Isa Gambar till registration of Ibragimbekov in the Central Election Committee. If Ibragimbekov fails to be a candidate, Gambar will have a right to become its successor in the position of a common candidate. It is not acceptable for People’s Front headed by Ali Kerimli and the Liberals headed by Lala Shovket: their relations with Musavat’s leader leave much to be desired.
The question on support of the united Azerbaijani opposition by foreign players is still open. It is clear that Erdogan’s Turkey won’t support the opposition. Ankara won’t put at risk its good relations with Baku. Moreover, Erdogan’s government won’t forgive the Azerbaijani nationalist opposition its active participation in the recent anti-governmental meetings in Istanbul.
The position of Russia is very moderate. According to the Russian ambassador in Azerbaijan, Vladimir Dorokhin, Russia “doesn’t interfere with internal policy of Azerbaijan.” The diplomat is sure that Azerbaijan is able to conduct the elections at a high level.
The other important regional player is Iran; it seems it will try to maintain a neutral position. First of all, Tehran is not ready to count on nationalists in the context of the South Azerbaijani factor. When People’s Front was in office, Azerbaijan had the worst relations with Tehran in the whole history of independent Azerbaijan. Furthermore, the leaving president of Iran Ahmadinejad directly supported the current president of Azerbaijan: “Azerbaijan will win more victories being headed by Ilham Aliyev.”
The EU and the USA present no surprises to Baku. The Azeri opposition hoped that the third term of Ilham Aliyev would be considered by the Western society as illegal; but they failed. The head of the European Commission Barroso was glad to meet Aliyev in Brussels and praised the current leadership of Azerbaijan. The USA speaks about Azerbaijan delicately. And wide-scale energy projects have been started; their guarantor is the current authorities.
Therefore, the Azerbaijani opposition which has chosen a common candidate within National Council of Democratic Forces made a serious step in the election competition. However, its political construction can be easily ruined, if Ibragimbekov fails to be registered as a candidate in the CEC.