The outcome of the November 6 presidential election in Tajikistan was a foregone conclusion, but opposition parties could have made more of an effort, according to a political analyst in the country.
In an IWPR interview, Ravshan Abdullaev, director of the Eurasia Foundation of Central Asia, noted that the five candidates who stood against the incumbent president, Imomali Rahmonov, never stood a chance, and others who might have the capacity to pose a threat were not given a chance to get to the starting line.
“Of course, the public had no real choice,” Abdullaev said. “The political arena was purged, so that even if people had wanted to vote for someone [else], those candidates wouldn’t have been able to run for election.”
“The moment a reasonably young politician with leadership qualities emerges, the machinery of the state kicks in to defend the political status quo,” he added.
One candidate came close to challenging Rahmonov – Oinikhol Bobonazarova, who was nominated by the opposition Coalition of Reformist Forces. But she never got to take part because the coalition failed to submit application papers to register, in the belief it had gathered insufficient signatures in her support.
According to Abdullaev, the coalition made several fatal mistakes – naming a joint candidate and thereby inviting trouble from the regime, but then engaging in internecine squabbling instead of making a concerted effort to get through the registration process.
“Responsibilities weren’t shared out among the parties. In principle, it wouldn’t have been that hard to collect 200,000 signatures even with the pressure they came under. I think it would have been possible if they’d tried. Since the president said he’d guarantee a free election some months ago, I think the authorities would have done everything to ensure that Oinikhol Bobonazarova could take part…. The speculation was all about whether they would allow her to stand, but in the event it was the same people who nominated her who prevented her from running.”
Nevertheless, Abdullaev said, both of the key players in the opposition coalition – the Islamic Rebirth Party and the Social Democrats – had come out well, since they had got a fair amount of publicity but by not having their candidate go through, they had not actually lost the election.
Shahodat Saibnazarova is IWPR Radio Editor in Tajikistan.
This audio programme went out in Russian on national radio stations in Tajikistan, as part of IWPR project work funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.