Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Plan B for Azerbaijan's Opposition

Preventing opposition candidates from gaining ballot access is a standard practice in the region, but the main opposition candidate in Azerbaijan's upcoming presidential election made it easy. Azerbaijan's Central Electoral Commission rejected Rustam Ibragimbekov's application to contest the election (stories in Eurasianet and RFE/RL among others). The CEC decision notes that his dual citizenship and residency practices over the last decade render him ineligible. Article 100 of Azerbaijan's Constitution indeed states that candidates must be "exclusively" [Note: in the English translation] citizens of Azerbaijan and reside in the country for a decade. Russia seems to be helping the Azerbaijani authorities make the case by failing to accept Ibragimbekov's petition to revoke his Russian citizenship. While the interpretation could be debated, Ibragimbekov's Russian passport and time in Russia certainly make the CEC decision defensible.

As the campaign moves forward, the opposition has several decisions to make. Ibragimbekov says that he will appeal, but an appeal is unlikely to be successful and may be a distraction. The opposition nominated an alternative candidate, anticipating the possibility of the CEC decision, but Camil Hasanli is not as well known. A boycott is also a potential response, but major opposition figures have boycotted before without making a strong impact. Not unexpectedly, the path now seems even clearer for President Aliyev's re-election.