Azerbaijan CEC rules out opposition candidate for presidential poll

By bne IntelliNews August 28, 2013

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Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission (CEC) on August 27 ruled out Oscar-winning screenwriter Rustam Ibragimbekov from running in the October presidential election. Ibragimbekov had been selected by a coalition of opposition parties as their united candidate to stand against incumbent President Ilham Aliyev, but was deemed ineligible to stand since he still holds Russian citizenship.

The CEC said Ibragimbekov could not stand in the elections, as he has joint Azerbaijani and Russian citizenship and lives mainly in Moscow. Under Azerbaijan's election rules, presidential candidates need to have lived in the country for the past 10 years. According to the commission, Ibragimbekov has lived in Azerbaijan for just 1,163 days (less than three years) during the last decade, EurasiaNet reports.

While Ibragimbekov may still get to run in the election if his Russian citizenship is revoked, the National Council of Democratic Forces, an umbrella organisation for the Azerbaijani opposition, has already appointed historian Jamil Hasanli as their back-up candidate.

Ibragimbekov won an Academy Award for his film "Burnt by the Sun", and was also co-writer of the Soviet classic "White Sun of the Desert". While living mainly in Moscow, he is active in Azerbaijani opposition politics and was one of the founders of the National Council of Democratic Forces in May 2013. The council, which aims to unite the Azerbaijani opposition to present a credible challenge to Aliyev's regime, later selected Ibragimbekov as its candidate for the October 9 elections.

Since being nominated, Ibragimbekov has attempted to revoke his Russian citizenship to comply with Azerbaijan's electoral rules, but has so far been unsuccessful. Ultimately, the decision rests with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but with a warming of relations between Baku and Moscow this is looking increasingly unlikely.

Putin visited Baku on August 13 for the first time since his re-election as president in 2012, accompanied by a large trade delegation including major Russian companies in the energy and military sectors. During the visit, Russian oil company Rosneft signed an agreement with Azerbaijan's state oil company Socar to set up a joint venture to work on hydrocarbons projects in both countries. Rosneft head Igor Sechin also expressed an interest in developing Azerbaijan's Abershon field.

Meanwhile, Moscow's relationship with Armenia, usually Russia's closest ally in the Caucasus, has become somewhat strained recently, with Gazprom hiking gas prices to Armenia, while Yerevan pursues closer ties with the EU.

With Ibragimbekov's candidacy looking increasingly unlikely, on August 24 the council also started the registration process for its back-up candidate Jamil Hasanli. A well known Azerbaijani historian, Hasanli is a former MP who is now a history professor at Baku State University.

Despite the opposition challenge, Aliyev is widely expected to be returned to office for a third term. The son of independent Azerbaijan's first president, Gaidar Aliyev, he was elected in 2003 and 2008 with 76.84% and 83% of the vote respectively. He was backed unanimously as New Azerbaijan's candidate at the party's congress in June.

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