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Azerbaijani Opposition Chooses Backup Presidential Candidate

Camil Hasanli (file photo)
Camil Hasanli (file photo)
BAKU -- Azerbaijan's united opposition has named a backup candidate to contest October's presidential election should their first choice, famed screenwriter Rustam Ibragimbekov, be barred from running.

The National Council of Democratic Forces at a gathering in Baku on August 23 voted for Camil Hasanli, 61, as its second choice to challenge President Ilham Aliyev.

Hasanli served as a lawmaker in parliament from 2000 to 2010. A prominent historian and expert on the Cold War, he has authored several monographs and more than 100 articles. He is also close to Ibragimbekov, who threw his support behind Hasanli.

Speaking to fellow opposition members, Hasanli said: "The question of power is not as easy as writing a book. It has its own difficulties and hardships. Considering the current situation, the prospects of the National Council, and repeated requests from the chairman of the council, Rustam Ibragimbekov, I agreed to undertake this mission."

He said that not only the opposition, but the "whole nation" was calling for the Aliyev government to be held accountable.

"Today, I believe that the criminal government of Azerbaijan is not only facing the opposition forces, but the whole nation," he said.

"The authorities finally must feel the strength of people. The government finally must respect our nation's voice and return the most fundamental constitutional right back to people -- that the people are the source of the power."

Ibragimbekov Doubts

Oscar-winning screenwriter Ibragimbekov, the first choice of the united opposition, is in a race against time -- and politics -- to become a candidate.

The Azerbaijani Constitution prohibits candidates from holding allegiances to foreign states. Ibragimbekov holds a second passport from Russia and is working on having those documents rescinded by the Russian government.

He is currently in Moscow, awaiting a decision. He must return to Azerbaijan to collect the thousands of signatures needed to run by September 20.

Ibragimbekov was quoted on August 23 by news website as saying, "I will be honest with you: I don't believe that Putin will sign [my denaturalization request] at this point."

But he said he still had not given up hopes of running.

Nevertheless, the united opposition has made sure to have another candidate ready. Some analysts predict Hasanli will indeed wind up being the National Council's hope in the election.

Historian Eldar Ismayilov told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that Hasanli was a good choice. "I've known Camil for over 40 years. I don't know anyone who can compete with him," he said. "He is democratic and a person who is very close to people."

Richard Kauzlarich, U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan from 1994 to 1997, told RFE/RL that there was no question as to whether Aliyev, whose family has ruled Azerbaijan for more than two decades, will win on October 9.

"The fix is in for the elections. Ilham's going to win. I don't know that there's any question here," Kauzlarich said.

"The real question is will the government conduct these elections as they always have, where it's so blatant that the elections are manipulated, or will they be concerned enough to begin to show a different sign of at least movement toward a more democratic future."

Writing and additional reporting by Richard Solash, based on reporting by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service
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