The 10 registered candidates (of an initial 21 hopefuls) are incumbent Ilham Aliyev, whose reelection for a third term is regarded both within Azerbaijan and abroad as a foregone conclusion; five parliament deputies: Umid (Hope) Party Chairman Iqbal Agazade, People's Front of United Azerbaijan Chairman Qudrat Hasanquliyev, Adalet party Chairman and former Azerbaijan SSR Prosecutor-General Ilyas Ismayilov, National Revival Movement leader Farac Quliyev, and independent candidate Zahid Oruc; the chairmen of three extraparliamentary parties: Araz Alizade (Social Democratic Party), Hafiz Haciyev (Modern Musavat), and Sardar Calaloglu (Democratic Party of Azerbaijan); and Camil Hasanli, belatedly nominated by the opposition National Council of Democratic Forces (NSDS) as its fallback candidate once it became clear that respected Moscow-based filmmaker and NSDS Chairman Rustam Ibragimbekov would fail to meet the criteria for registration.
Ismayilov, Hasanquliyev, and Haciyev were among the eight candidates in the 2003 presidential ballot; none of them polled more than 1 percent of the vote. Agazade, Hasanquliyev and Haciyev ran in the 2008 ballot, garnering 2.86, 2.28 and 0.65 percent of the vote respectively, according to Zerkalo.az on October 21, 2008.
In all, five would-be contenders were denied registration. The most prominent of them were Ibragimbekov, the first choice of the NSDS, and Ilqar Mammadov, head of the political organization ReAl (Republican Alternative).
Ibragimbekov, 74, had been identified as a potential presidential candidate a year ago. Analysts reasoned that as an apolitical figure and moral authority (in 2008 he was denounced for having deplored the destruction of the traditional Baku lifestyle and of Azerbaijan's "national elite"), he would stand a better chance of securing the unanimous backing of disparate opposition groups than any of the prominent opposition party leaders who have run in previous ballots.
Ibragimbekov was one of the core members of the Public Forum for Azerbaijan established in early 2008 by Eldar Namazov, who had quit his post as adviser to President Heydar Aliyev in 1999. In mid-March of this year, Ibragimbekov and Namazov established a new political movement named EL (People). Its primary objective was described as seeking to ensure the upcoming presidential ballot is transparent and democratic and preventing falsification of the outcome.
"We want to see Azerbaijan emerge from the swamp of corruption, monopolies, falsification, arbitrary bureaucratic rulings, lawlessness, the trampling of human rights, rid of the cult of personality -- a modern, democratic, secular state that has restored its territorial integrity," Namazov told supporters.
At that time, EL members said the movement might either nominate its own presidential candidate or back another candidate with broad opposition support.
Namazov then embarked on talks with the chairmen of the two most influential opposition parties, Ali Kerimli (Azerbaijan Popular Front Party) and Isa Qambar (Musavat Party), who continues to this day to insist that he defeated Ilham Aliyev in the 2003 presidential ballot, on joining forces. Ibragimbekov had called in January for "all democratic and progressive forces" to align in a new National Council. Namazov predicted in early May that the imminent NSDS would be formally launched on May 28, the anniversary of the proclamation in 1918 of the independent Azerbaijan Democratic Republic.
In contrast to numerous previous tactical opposition alliances, most of them short-lived, the NSDS comprises some 100 individual political figures, rather than a coalition of political parties. The founding congress of the NSDS took place on June 7; Ibragimbekov was elected its chairman.
One month later, the NSDS nominated Ibragimbekov as its presidential candidate, despite veiled criticism of him from Qambar, whom the Musavat Party had already nominated as its presidential candidate in early January. Qambar argued that the various opposition forces should unite behind a candidate who was based in Azerbaijan and could campaign there.
Ibragimbekov was reluctant to travel to Baku for fear he would be arrested in connection with charges of tax evasion brought against the Union of Cinematographers that he heads. He dismissed those charges in an extensive interview in January as fabricated and without foundation.
Human rights activist Leyla Yunus was just one of many prominent political figures who endorsed Ibragimbekov, whom she described as a unifying force who would not cave in to pressure from the authorities. In the event, Ibragimbekov was denied registration on the grounds that he still held a Russian passport, the Russian authorities having failed to act on his formal request to relinquish his Russian citizenship. Azerbaijan's election law bars persons with dual citizenship from running for president.
The second major opposition challenger was Ilqar Mammadov, one of five co-founders in late 2008 of ReAl. Mammadov was arrested in January 2013 after traveling to the town of Ismayili, 200 kilometers west of Baku, to investigate violent protests there against the local governor and formally charged with inciting that unrest. He has been held in pretrial detention for the past seven months. Azerbaijani officials have rejected appeals by the Council of Europe and European Parliament for his release as foreign interference in Azerbaijan's internal affairs.
ReAl nominated Mammadov in early February as its presidential candidate. The Central Election Commission approved his registration application in late August, but then declined to register him as a candidate on the grounds that 4,982 of the 41,247 signatures he presented in his support were invalid, thereby reducing the total to below the minimum 40,000 required. Mammadov has formally appealed that ruling.
Three more would-be candidates -- Liberal Democratic Party Chairman Fuad Aliyev, Liberty Party Chairman Akhmed Oruc and Citizen and Development Party leader Ali Aliyev -- likewise fell foul of the minimum requirement of 40,000 valid signatures. (The two Aliyevs are not related to each other and neither is related to the incumbent president.)
Four independent candidates -- Elshan Hasanov, Yusif Ismayilov, Rauf Guliyev and Arustun Orucu – threw in the towel after failing to collect 40,000 signatures. Two more independents, Ali Isa Agayevli and Gudrat Isagov, withdrew their candidacy.
In mid-August, as Ibragimbekov's chances of meeting the registration requirements visibly dwindled, he urged the NSDS to select a fallback candidate. At an emergency session on August 23, 72 of 74 NSDS members approved Hasanli in that capacity. Qambar withdrew his own candidacy in support of Hasanli.
Hasanli, 61, is a historian who began his political career in the early 1990s, serving as an adviser in 1992-93 to then-President Abulfaz Elchibey, whose national democratic views he shared. He was elected to parliament in 2000 and 2005, and in 2009 was one of the co-founders of the Forum of the Intelligentsia. He has issued a memorandum pledging that in the event of his election as president he will step down after two years, having formed a government of national reconciliation, abolished media censorship, launched a reform of the judiciary, and held preterm parliamentary elections.
Togrul Cuvarli, a member of the Azerbaijani National Public Committee for Euro-Integration, described Hasanli as "a gentle person" who lacks Ibragimbekov's charisma and oratorical skill. On the plus side, Cuvarli continued, Hasanli has broad experience of Azerbaijani politics and enjoys the support of most major opposition party leaders.
Assuming that Mammadov's appeal against the refusal to register him is rejected, Hasanli will in effect be the only candidate unequivocally in opposition to the Aliyev regime. Zahid Oruc is on record as saying that while he continues to support the policies of Heydar and Ilham Aliyev, that does not preclude criticism of "individual failings" which he declined to specify.