In Azerbaijan’s tightly managed political and media environment it is not often that a person emerges from the shadows to steal the limelight and catch the imagination of people. Yet this is what a University History professor in his seventies has been able to do over the last weeks since he unexpectedly was chosen as a last minute substitute to represent the opposition “National Council of Democratic Forces” in the Presidential elections that are due in a few days time.
Camil Hasanli had never been in front-line politics before, but had within academic and intellectual circles a reputation as an honest and intellectual person of integrity. Few thought that he had the attributes necessary for the rough and tumble of Azerbaijani politics. Yet over a short period of time, and thanks mainly to a window of opportunity provided by the election campaign which gave him a few minutes of exposure on national television, Hasanli grew in stature by the minute. It was not only his own tough and uncompromising statements in which he lambasted the government for incompetence and corruption that earned him accolades, but also the fact that most of the other candidates in the election preferred to gang up against him. With a cool panache Hasanli saw them off one by one.
The fact that the fragmented Azerbaijani opposition could agree on a common candidate is an achievement in itself. In this they were unintentionally helped by the government who in one way or another eliminated different contenders. The last one still fighting was Ilgar Mammedov the candidate of the REAL movement, who languishes in prison. His appeal against a decision not to allow him to stand because of shortcomings in the list of the forty thousand voters required to nominate him, was quashed by the Supreme Court on Friday, and Mammedov and REAL finally formally endorsed Hasanli’s Presidential bid. In creating conditions that caused the opposition to unite the government may have made its most serious mistake of the election campaign. There is a further lesson: in politics, often, better the devil you know.
Camil Hassanli is an unlikely “man on the white horse”. He himself describes his candidacy as a means of managing a transition of power. Yet in many ways and in an extraordinary short period of time he has been able to change Azerbaijani politics.
source: This commentary was prepared by the editorial team of Caucasus Elections Watch.