No Real Choice in Tajik Election

Election observers from European states find there wasn’t much to vote about.

No Real Choice in Tajik Election

Election observers from European states find there wasn’t much to vote about.

International monitors have criticised both campaigning and the actual conduct of the November 6 presidential election in Tajikistan. Although election day was peaceful and six candidates were in the running, the process lacked “genuine choice and meaningful pluralism”, a statement from the joint OSCE-European Parliament observer mission said. 

President Imomali Rahmon won his fourth election since coming to power in 1992, this time taking just under 84 per cent of the vote, according to Tajikistan’s electoral authority. Turnout was said to be high at 87 per cent, and the election commission said it had received no complaints of wrongdoing.

By contrast, the OSCE-EP monitors said they spotted “significant shortcomings” in the conduct of the vote, including “widespread proxy voting, group voting, and indications of ballot-box stuffing”.

Rahmonov’s five challengers – Olim Boboev, Ahmadbek Bukhoriev, Saidjafar Ismonov, Abduhalim Ghafforov and Ismoil Talbakov – were never really going to pose him any problems. In the event, they scored between one and five per cent of the vote each.

The one candidate who might have at least cut away at Rahmonov’s lead was Oinikhol Bobonazarova, nominated by the opposition Coalition of Reformist Forces, a bloc made up of the Islamic Rebirth Party, the Social Democrats and others. But she dropped out of the race after failing to submit application papers to the election authority in time. The coalition mistakenly believed it had gathered insufficient signatures for Bobonazarova’s application to be eligible, and its request to submit them after the October 11 deadline was rejected. (For the background, see Tajik Opposition's Election Plans Dashed.)

At a press conference the day after the election, the OSCE-EP team noted that shortcomings in the electoral process were not confined to the vote itself.

“Our observation here over the past six weeks has identified serious shortcomings in candidate and voter registration, the consistent application of election laws, and equal representation for political parties in lower-level election commissions, among others,” Paraschiva Bǎdescu, who led the OSCE long-term observer mission, said. “The majority of past ODIHR recommendations remain unimplemented.”

According to the mission’s statement, the election campaign “lacked substantive debate”, and despite the electoral commission’s efforts to ensure a level playing-field for all candidates, “there was a substantial difference between the visibility of the incumbent president and the other five candidates”.

In addition to concerns about the disqualification of Bobonazarova as the only female candidate, the OSCE-EP delegation found that women were underrepresented or absent from the broader process.

“The lack of any women candidates registered, and the almost complete lack of women in political life and leadership, calls into question how much the political class genuinely represents Tajikistan,” delegation head Margareta Cederfelt said. “This is indicative of a serious restriction on the choice voters were given.”

In reports posted on online news and social media websites, journalists in Tajikistan said they had seen numerous breaches of the rules including the faking of results.

The heads of former Soviet states like Russia, Belarus and even Uzbekistan – a sometimes difficult neighbour – were quick to congratulate Rahmon on winning, as were China and Iran, both of which have good relations with Tajikistan.

The US State Department, however, said it concurred” with the OSCE-EP mission’s findings, and said, “True democracy is about more than an election day. We urge the Tajik government to begin working now to strengthen political pluralism, allow true opposition parties to operate, and expand operating space for independent media and civil society groups.

Rahmon rose to the top amid the turmoil of civil war in Tajikistan, when the Popular Front – a faction based in his southern heartland – took control of the government. The conflict came to an end in 1997 with a negotiated settlement with the armed opposition. Meanwhile, Rahmon was formally elected president in 1994, and went on to win again in 1999.

In 2003, a referendum took place which changed the constitution to grant the president the right to stand for two more terms. Re-elected in 2006 and again this November, Rahmon is now into the second of those seven-year terms.

Nilufar Karimova is an IWPR-trained journalist in Tajikistan.

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