Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Tajik President Wins Expected Landslide
With few alternatives on offer, most voters went for the obvious candidate – the current president.
By IWPR staff
The final result announced in Tajikistan’s presidential election reflected the findings of an IWPR straw poll predicting a clear win for incumbent Imomali Rahmonov.
Rahmonov won 79.3 per cent of the vote, totally dominating the November 6 election, according to data released by Central Electoral Commission chief Mirzoali Boltuev the following day.
His nearest rival was Olimjon Boboev, who got just 6.2 per cent. Boboev, a relative unknown from the Economic Reforms Party, followed by Amir Karakulov of the Agrarian Party with 5.3 per cent, at least did better than Ismail Talbakov of the well-established Communist Party, who scored 5.1 per cent. Last was Abduhalim Gafforov with just 2.8 per cent, nominated by one of two factions in the Socialist Party.
An unscientific survey of voting patterns which IWPR conducted on the day of the election in various parts of the country showed that the majority favoured Rahmonov rather than any of his rivals.
The southern Hatlon region is Rahmonov’s heartland, and many voters there predictably said they would choose him.
Of the other contenders, only Communist Party leader Ismail Talbakov has any kind of constituency. But party member Saifiddin Sharipov said he would be voting for Rahmonov instead, as he deserved another term in office. Like many Tajiks, Sharipov credits the president with bringing an end to five years of civil war in 1997.
“Although I’m a member of the Communist Party, I am voting for Rahmonov, because he has given the people peace, and thanks to him construction has begun on several large hydroelectric stations,” said Sharipov.
Another Communist in the south, Abdullo Mahmadaliev, said he too preferred Rahmonov’s campaign platform over the others, although he declined to say who he would be voting for.
Hatlon also has a significant presence of the Islamic Revival Party, IRP, the country’s major opposition party which decided not to field a candidate in this election, although it did not formally boycott it as the Democrats and Social Democrats did.
Party activist Sadriddin Halimov told IWPR that in the absence of an IRP contender, he would be giving Rahmonov his vote. “The fact that Rahmonov is a worthy candidate is acknowledged not just in Tajikistan, but abroad as well,” he explained.
Azimjob Vahobov, the IRP’s deputy head in Hatlon province, said it would be wrong to comment on his own voting choices, but said the re-elected president would have a lot of work still to do, including tackling systemic corruption and the fact that hundreds of thousands of Tajiks have to work abroad as migrant labour.
The November 6 election fell on a public holiday marking Constitution Day, and local authorities did their best to make the election a festive affair, with music and food laid on at polling stations in the Hatlon city of Kurghon-Tepa (Kurgan-Tyube).
In the north of Tajikistan, too, the election day mood was upbeat. In the administrative centre Khujand, music blared out and kebabs sizzled on roadside barbecues, and women hurrying to vote tried to rein in children who were making tracks for street stalls piled with sweets.
A continuous supply of natural gas, a rare commodity normally rationed from five to seven in the evening, was switched on in people’s homes the day before the election.
Here too, the vast majority of voters appeared to be opting for Rahmonov, either because they felt he had improved their lives, or because they felt he was the only known quantity on the list of candidates.
“Under his rule, the country gained its independence, people’s standard of living has improved, and major investors have started coming in,” said Mansur Mirmullaev, a teacher at a private school in Khujand.
Mirmullaev has over 40 years’ work behind him, so his perspective is different from that of Jamshed, a young man who scrapes by doing casual labour. But Jamshed too said he voted for Rahmonov, explaining, “I don’t want any changes; everything should stay the same. Things are going well for me now. I don’t want anything to interfere with that.”
One 30-year-old man in the city, who did not want to be named, said he voted for the Communist Talbakov in the hope it would bring some fresh blood into the governing system.
“Rahmonov has done a lot for the country, but many unresolved problems still remain: relations with neighbouring countries are tense; corruption and drug crime are flourishing, and something needs to be done about this,” said the voter. “If someone new with a good understanding of politics and economics comes to power, then he will be able to change some things.”
In the capital Dushanbe, responses from voters were similar.
“Is it any secret who I voted for?” asked resident Fathullo Abdulloev: “Of course one old friend is better than two new ones. Imomali Rahmonov has proved himself a patriot in many ways.”
Another interviewee, Daler Kurbonov, asked, “How can I vote for the other candidates when I don’t know anything about them?”
Turnout was relatively low in the capital, and IWPR reporters found many polling stations nearly deserted by midday, with domestic election monitors standing outside and smoking because there was nothing going on.
Foreign election monitors have yet to give their verdict on whether the verdict was free and fair. IWPR reporters noticed a number of worrying incidents, although it is hard to assess how widespread they were or what impact they might have had on the outcome.
For this election, colourful posters were designed that urged people not to try to vote on behalf of other family members, and training was provided for election staff to prevent such illegal practices. But as one IWPR contributor went to vote, an election official was asking lone voters why they had not brought their relatives’ voting papers along so they could cast a ballot for them too.
Election staff were also seen helping confused voters by crossing off all the names except Rahmonov’s.
At Dushanbe’s teacher training university, lecturers shepherded students to the polls, with one group being herded in as the previous one left. One student who spoke on condition of anonymity said they were under instructions from college staff to vote for the president.
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