Q&A: Azerbaijan's presidential election

Baku Azerbaijan has large oil and gas reserves which have funded infrastructure projects

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The oil-rich former-Soviet state of Azerbaijan holds its sixth presidential election since independence on 9 October, and President Ilham Aliyev is certain to be re-elected for a third five-year term.

He took over in 2003 on the death of his father Heydar, who in turn had ruled since 1993. No election in the 20-year Aliyev era has come close to meeting recognised standards of fairness, competitiveness or transparency.

The two main opposition parties will be putting up a joint candidate for the first time, but Azeri and international observers think this will make little difference to the outcome.

Who are the main candidates?

Camil Hasanli Challenger Camil Hasanli

President Ilham Aliyev had the constitution changed in 2009 to let him stand for a third term, and has the entire resources of the state behind him.

The only credible challenger is Camil Hasanli of the National Council of Democrat Forces, which unites the two major Musavat and People's Front parties along with several other smaller groups. Both Musavat and the People's Front boycotted the 2008 presidential election.

A noted historian, former MP and ex-adviser to Heydar Aliyev, Mr Hasanli was the Council's last-minute choice after the authorities barred celebrated film maker Rustam Ibragimbekov on the grounds that he has dual Russian citizenship.

Who else is standing?

One minor candidate from the 2008 vote - Iqbal Agazade of the liberal Hope party - is standing again. He polled less than 3% in 2008.

Three other opposition candidates and four minor pro-government candidates are also standing, with none rating even 1% in either government- or opposition-aligned opinion polls.

Are any major figures barred from the vote?

Apart from Rustam Ibragimbekov, another major opposition player barred from the race is Ilgar Mammadov of the Republican Alternative.

He has been in jail since January on charges of inciting public violence that his supporters say are trumped up.

The Central Election Commission has refused to register him as a candidate, saying he lacks the required number of valid nomination signatures, which Mr Mammadov disputes.

Is the presidency important?

Yes. Azerbaijan is a presidential republic, and the president is head of both state and government, with sweeping powers.

Has the campaign been fair?

Aliyev Ilham Frontrunner President Ilham Aliyev

President Aliyev enjoys a massive media advantage, with all major state and private television channels broadly supporting the government.

State TV allocates equal campaigning slots to all candidates, but the opposition complains blanket coverage of the president's recent nationwide tours constitutes unsanctioned electioneering.

Candidates can buy additional slots, but the opposition complains that they are prohibitively expensive. Most private channels have opted out of showing these extra campaign ads, and the opposition alleges government pressure.

The internet and social media are growing in importance, and all candidates have websites and Facebook and Twitter accounts, but they do not yet compete with the impact of television.

Has the campaign been free?

Rights monitors report a dramatic increase in the number of journalists and opposition activists jailed in the months before the election.

The Azerbaijani Human Rights Club says the number rose from 60 in January to 142 by the end of September, and Britain's Index on Censorship accuses the government of "tightening the screws" ahead of the poll.

Index highlights a law passed in May that raises penalties for criminal defamation online to a hefty fine or up to three years in jail, saying it has had a "chilling impact" on social media.

The European Union has also issued a high-level expression of concern, noting "continued pressure on a number of opposition activists, civil society and independent media, such as intimidations, arrests on dubious charges, detentions and sentencing without proper respect for international standards and rights of the accused".

President Aliyev's spokesman Ali Hasanov rejects the criticism as "based on biased, one-sided and preconceived information".

Who is monitoring the vote?

Azerbaijani opposition and international observers have alleged ballot-stuffing at previous elections, and the Central Election Commission says it has now installed surveillance cameras at all polling stations to allow anyone to observe ballot boxes on free web sites for 24 hours from the start of voting.

But the Commission has up to ten days in which to count the votes, which opposition activists say is ample time to doctor the results.

More than 1,000 foreign observers are expected to monitor the polls, primarily from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), various offices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States Election Observation Mission.

The European Parliament's decision not to monitor the vote and its failure to explain why has prompted the authorities to claim that Azerbaijan is now a democracy with no need for scrutiny, while the opposition alleges the European Union fears losing out on Azerbaijani gas pipeline projects.

When are the results expected?

The Central Election Commission should announce whether any candidate has won within ten days of polling, and there is little doubt that it will meet the deadline.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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