Azerbaijan: With Celebrity Candidate Rustam Ibragimbekov, a New Script for Presidential Vote?
Oscar-winning screenwriter Rustam Ibragimbekov has been nominated for president of Azerbaijan, an award that the post-Soviet cinema celebrity will need to snatch from the current, all-powerful, ever-incumbent president, Ilham Aliyev.
“The East is a delicate matter,” goes a popular trope from a cult Soviet movie co-written by Ibragimbekov, "The White Sun of the Desert", a Soviet version of a Spaghetti Western where a cowboy-style hero confronts a guerrilla ringleader on the Caspian Sea's shores. This movie, and numerous others, such as the Academy-Award-winning "Burnt by the Sun," are what Ibragimbekov brings to the table in this real-life fight with a Caspian boss.
Opposition groups, long drubbed into a political corner by President Aliyev’s Yeni Azerbaijan Party juggernaut, hope that the Moscow-based Ibragimbekov’s status and connections will help them get voters' nod for Azerbaijan's lead political role. The expectation may sound a little optimistic given how well cemented Aliyev’s power is, but the nomination does seem to have put the ruling elite out of humor. Ibragimbekov “political movie” is going to flop, scoffed Siyavush Novruzov, a senior Yeni Azerbaijan Party member. “Rustam Ibragimbekov is fooling himself,” Novruzov said, APA news agency reported. “He will only embarrass himself and the political parties that have united behind him.” In a July 2 speech at Baku's police academy, President Aliyev went into a diatribe laden with thinly veiled hints that the opposition is hankering after treasonous ties with Russia. “The forces that go against us once again showed their true face,” he said. “They have a servile mentality… constantly looking for a big brother.”
The Kremlin is not, at least openly, betting on anyone in particular yet in the election. But there are some ethnic-Azeri brothers out there -- a group of Russia-based billionaires -- who may be backing Ibragimbekov’s bid.
Ironically, not so long ago, President Aliyev felt much more positive where Ibragimbekov is concerned. A YouTube video, published in December 2012 and cited by RFE/RL, shows him toasting the celebrated screenwriter as a regular, down-to-earth guy, but one "who. . . sees more and better than we do."
Time will tell whether Azerbaijani voters agree. At the very least, with Ibragimbekov looped in, Azerbaijan's October election promises to be not just another predictable sequel of the last two presidential votes. The screenwriter told the BBC that he fears for his safety, but still hopes for a happy ending.
Giorgi Lomsadze is a journalist based in Tbilisi, and author of Tamada Tales.
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