Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Tajik Opposition's Election Plans Dashed

No one was predicting a surprise victory for the challenger, but she has dropped out of the race before it even starts.
By Lola Olimova, Nilufar Karimova
  • Oinikhol Bobonazarova. (Photo: Galim Faskhutdinov)
    Oinikhol Bobonazarova. (Photo: Galim Faskhutdinov)

Tajik president Imomali Rahmon was always going to win another term in the November 6 election, but the departure of the main opposition candidate has made it that bit easier. 

Oinikhol Bobonazarova, nominated by the Coalition of Reformist Forces, a bloc made up of the Islamic Rebirth Party, the Social Democrats and others, failed to submit application papers to the Central Election Commission (CEC) by the deadline, in the belief she had gathered fewer than the required number of signatures to enter as a candidate.

The opposition is accusing the authorities of waging a concerted campaign to undermine it by obstructing its activities and intimidating party activists.

What really sunk its chances in the end was a matter of simple confusion.

Anyone wishing to stand as a candidate was required to produce a list of signatures representing a minimum of five per cent of the electorate. The general understanding, based on statements made by the authorities, was that this meant 210,000. Bobonazarova had only around 201,000, so her campaign team did not submit an application.

But then the electoral authorities said that according to the latest count of voters, five per cent of the electorate came to around 201,630. CEC head Abdumannon Dodoev said the earlier, higher figure was based on a forecast that proved inaccurate.

“We were expecting an increase in voting population due to the number of people turning 18 by election day, November 6, and the number of people released from prison,” he said.

Bobonazarova had just under 201,240 signatures, so she was very nearly there and might have scraped through if only the coalition had gone ahead and submitted an application.

On October 18, the opposition coalition formally asked the CEC to accept a late application. This was turned down on the grounds that the deadline for submission had already been extended twice, from October 7 to 10, and then to the following day.

Bobonazarova told IWPR that her team did not file registration papers by the deadline because they were sure it would be pointless.

“The first and most important reason is that we decided not to endanger people who had put their names down in support of me, because we could see we weren’t going to get enough signatures by the deadline anyway,” she said. “Secondly, the CEC asked us to submit them [signature lists] to be signed off by the local authorities in whichever areas we had gathered them. This was in addition to the requirement that the blank forms also needed to be signed by local officials before we gathered any signatures.”

Looking back at the experience, Bobonazarova said she had known to expect trouble when she was nominated for the presidency but was nevertheless surprised by how much intimidation she faced.

“There was pressure on members of my family – on my brother and nephews. My 90-year old mother was questioned – they visited her at home – my brother was questioned, and so on,” she said. “What I didn’t expect was that pressure would be exerted on other people who merely helped me gather signatures. I have received 35 complaints backed up with evidence from people who either signed in support of me or helped collect signatures, and who have been threatened with dismissal from their jobs or pressured in other ways.”

Mahmadali Hayt, who headed Bobonazarova’s campaign team, told the Asia Plus news agency of cases where local government officials had demanded to see lists of signatures. As a result, he said, the lists were to be destroyed.

CEC chief Dodoev said his organisation had not received reports of intimidation and obstructionism.

Bobonazarova is a leading figure from the NGO world and was deliberately picked because she is not a politician and not associated with either the Islamic Rebirth Party or the Social Democrats. The hope was clearly that she would win support from both electorates plus a wider constituency including especially women.

Commentators in Tajikistan say that aside from the allegations of official intimidation, the opposition bloc did not help its own cause by appearing indecisive and half-hearted in its backing for Bobonazarova.

In a comment piece published on the Ozodagon news site on October 21, political analyst Rustam Majidov said the opposition’s attempt to present a united front was weak, and it did not settle on a joint candidate until very late in the day.

Member of parliament Suhrob Sharipov agreed with this view, telling IWPR that Bobonazarova did not have a strong team behind her. In addition, the IRP and the Social Democrats had fundamentally different visions of economic policy and other matters.

“The reform proposals set out in the programme of the Union of Reformist Forces look good, but they are politically immature,” he said.

With the joint opposition candidate out of the race, the Social Democrats are now threatening to boycott the election. The IRP has been more circumspect, suggesting that its members will refrain from voting but not declaring a boycott.

President Rahmon has thus won even before campaigning gets into full swing. There are five other candidates, but none is seen as having any chance. Some represent pro-government parties and appear to be running just so that there is an appearance of pluralism.

Lola Olimova is IWPR’s Tajikistan editor. Nilufar Karimova is an IWPR-trained journalist in Tajikistan.