Tajik Opposition Claims Major Poll Violations

Ruling party claims resounding victory, but its opponents say the vote was fixed.

Tajik Opposition Claims Major Poll Violations

Ruling party claims resounding victory, but its opponents say the vote was fixed.

Tajikistan’s election has ended in controversy, with opposition leaders crying foul as the government claims success.

There were few surprises in the February 27 ballot, and the dominant position of the People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan, PDPT, was unchallenged. Central Electoral Commission, CEC, chief Mirzoali Boltuev announced the following day that early results gave the PDPT 80 per cent of the vote, a substantial increase on the 65 per cent it got in the 2000 general election.

Turnout was very high at 88 per cent, Boltuev said.

The two parties which currently hold seats in parliament, the Communists and the Islamic Rebirth Party, IRP, got ten per cent of the vote apiece, which – if that is still the case once the final results are out – will translate into just two seats each. That is a worse result for the Communist Party, which in the last election got 20 per cent of votes and five seats, later increased to eight in by-elections.

It also means a bigger share of the vote for the IRP (last time it got 7.5 per cent) but the same number of seats.

The Democratic Party, the Socialists and the Social-Democratic Party of Tajikistan, SDPT, did not pass the five per cent threshold, according to the CEC, and will not be represented in the legislature.

The parties were competing for just 22 of the 63 seats in the lower house of parliament that are electable by proportional representation. The rest are “single mandate constituencies” in which independents rather than parties were elected.

All five opposition parties have banded together to protest at what they say were numerous breaches of election procedure, including ballot rigging. They believe the problems were widespread enough to call the election results into question, and are demanding re-runs in certain constituencies.

“We do not recognise the results in [the capital] Dushanbe and demand repeat elections here,” said Communist Party leader Shodi Shabdolov at a press conference given by the five parties the day after the election

Opposition leaders warned that unless the authorities met their demands, for re-run ballots, they would public brand the elections illegal, and withdraw both from parliament and from local election councils.

“Voting violations recorded by SDPT observers during the elections had a significant effect on voting results,” SDPT leader Rahmatillo Zoirov told IWPR.

According to Zoirov, the many irregularities reported by the SDPT’s election monitors included local government authorities who pressured observers and openly campaigned for the PDPT; election officials who made independent observers stand too far away to see the voting process; and a shortage of ballot papers in some places.

For the Democratic Party, its deputy leader Rahmatullo Valiev noted that some of the party’s observers had not been allowed to enter polling stations.

IRP campaign headquarters chief Shamsiddin Saidov reported that in the Farkhor district, a group of people were seen going around various polling stations, filling out entire bundles of voting papers and putting them in ballot boxes while election officials did nothing to stop them.

IWPR contributors in Dushanbe noted many cases where the electoral roll included names of people who had left the country long ago, and some who were dead. One found his six-year-old son placed on the list of people eligible to vote.

Also in the capital, a member of a constituency election commission told IWPR that he and his colleagues were forced to go from door to door urging people to vote, and that they also filled out ballot papers - with a tick for the PDPT – on behalf of voters who failed to turn up.

“We also quietly advised voters to vote for the PDPT,” said the official, who asked not to be named. “We were only carrying out an order from the top, otherwise we would have all been fired.”

In the south of Tajikistan, IWPR contributors in Kulyab and Vose districts saw uniformed police officers at polling stations, which is prohibited by law. One IWPR contributor and a local TV cameraman were prevented from filming the vote. Both PDPT agents and electoral officials were seen telling people to vote for the pro-regime party. Meanwhile, the heads of families filled out ballot papers and voted for female family members who had not come to the polls.

A straw poll conducted by IWPR suggested that 50 per cent of voters did not know how to fill out a ballot paper, and nine out of ten were able to vote without showing their passports, the required form of ID.

The violations observed by IWPR reporters and party representatives were echoed on statements from the OSCE and the United States embassy.

“The elections in the country did not match the key principles of the OSCE or international standards for holding democratic elections, particularly on election day,” said Peter Eicher, head of the local OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. “During the process of preparing for the elections, and on election day itself, observers noted serious violations, such as interference by the authorities in the voting process, pressure on political parties, closing down of media on the eve of elections etc., which were recorded in documents and were presented to the CEC.”

A statement from the US embassy spoke of “multiple reports that district election commissions were closed to observation, which contravenes international standards and the law of Tajikistan. Such a practice raises questions about how well the final results will reflect the will of the people.

The embassy added, “One of the egregious violations of international democratic standards was government harassment of independent media on legalistic technicalities.”

Only the election monitors who came from other former Soviet countries sounded a cheerful note. “There were no violations in the vote-counting procedure,” said Vladimir Rushailo, head of the team of observers sent by the Commonwealth of Independent States, CIS.

“The CIS observers recognise the elections as legitimate, free and transparent,” he said.

As the count continues, it is becoming apparent that re-runs will be needed in at least three districts – Hissar, Asht and Kanibadam.

The number-crunching is also beginning to reveal substantial discrepancies between the official figures issued by the CEC and the numbers recorded by political-party and international monitors.

In Hatlon region, local Democratic Party chief Saidrahmon Nazarov reports that observers were present when election officials signed off on documents showing the Democrats with 400 or more votes, yet the papers forwarded to the CEC in Dushanbe gave the party just 46 votes.

“The discrepancy between the official voting results and the parties’ results show that there are problems with the accuracy of the count,” said Tursun Kabirov, an independent political scientist. “If the regime and opposition are unable to reach a consensus, it may seriously complicate the social and political situation - especially as the opposition have now shown that they are united as never before.”

For the moment, the authorities appear unconcerned at the criticism.

After casting his vote for the PDPT which he leads, President Imomali Rahmonov said the OSCE was encountering fewer problems than before.

He also suggested that nations like Tajikistan had their own way of doing things which might differ from others, “Democratic processes are not a chess board, and people are not chess pieces.”

Zafar Abdullaev, Bilol Shamsov and Turko Dikaev are IWPR contributors. Lidiya Isamova is director of IWPR’s project in Tajikistan.

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