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

Tajikistan’s Next President: No Surprises

Experts’ assumptions that the country’s leader Emomali Rahmon would nominate his son for this election are disproved.
By IWPR Central Asia

As Tajikistan prepares for presidential elections next month, predictions of a possible change in leadership have come to nothing.

Analysts had debated whether the incumbent, Emomali Rahmon, might finally be replaced by his eldest son and second-in-command Rustam Emomali

In 2017, the country’s constitution was amended to lower the age for future presidents from 35 to 30. This was widely interpreted as an indication Rahmon was paving the way for his son - Dushanbe mayor and head of the Upper Chamber of parliament - to participate in 2020.

However, it is now clear that Rahmon, ostensibly running against four other candidates, will be re-elected.

The only other potential surprise in these elections, originally scheduled for November 6 but was brought forward to October 11 by parliament due to the Covid-19 crisis, was the emergence of a lone independent candidate.

Faromuz Irgashev, a 30-year-old former lawyer from Khorog, the administrative centre of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, had attempted to defy the law on presidential elections and nominate himself.

It was the first time in 20 years that an individual with no party affiliation had attempted to do this.  Only those nominated by the political parties, trade unions and regional assemblies have the right to participate, and their candidacy must be accompanied by at least 260,000 signatures of support.

Irgashev said he had made the decision three years ago, when the age of potential candidates was lowered. He stressed that he had not been backed by any organisation, whether political or criminal.

“This was my personal decision. If anyone has any doubts, I will prove it. Law enforcement agencies also found confirmation that there were no groups behind me,” Irgashev said.

Irgashev said that he was going to petition the constitutional court for the candidacy requirements to be changed.

 “This legal requirement violates many constitutional rights of the citizens, starting with spending a lot of time on collecting signatures and the need to certify them with the heads of cities and regions,” he said. “The latter represent the government party and find various pretexts not to confirm the signatures.”

Although there was no realistic chance of his campaign getting off the ground, Irgashev’s candidacy caused real interest on social media.

In the absence of any government response to his candidacy, a letter from a local teacher slating Irgashev’s initiative was published on the GBAO administration’s Facebook page and interpreted as the de facto official position.

The president’s think tank, the Center for Strategic Studies, also published a critical letter noting that Irgashev had no management experience, “does not correctly understand the national interests” and thus could not take on a position of responsibility.

In any case, Irgashev was unable to collect the required number of signatures, long a common problem for alternative candidates. In 2013, Oynihol Bobonazarova, the joint candidate of two opposition parties, was unable to collect enough signatures. Not a single opposition party candidate has ever made it to the final vote.

In this current round, the Central Election Commission (CEC) stated that Saidjafar Usmonzoda, chairman of the Democratic party, was denied registration because his documents did not comply with all legal requirements for collecting supporting signatures. In turn, Usmonzoda said that he had in fact collected and submitted more than 285,000 signatures.

The Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan, which experts consider to be the country’s only real opposition grouping, announced that they would be boycotting the elections. In late August, party leader Rahmatillo Zoirov denounced the polls as “illegal” and “antinational”.

Zoirov said that the law on the presidential elections was unconstitutional and that the CEC’s decision to bring the polls forwards was also illegal, not least because it was impossible to collect what amounted to five per cent of all voters’ signatures in just one month.

Some experts have suggested that Rahmon decided to run rather than putting his son in his place due to insufficient preparation for a transfer of power, as well as recent events including the unrest in Belarus.

Opposition media based outside Tajikistan have repeatedly reported that the Kremlin had disapproved of Rahmon’s plans to nominate his son for the upcoming elections.

Political analyst Parviz Mullojanov said that coronavirus had plunged the government into the worst crisis for a decade.

“Its impact on people’s living standards is a new phenomenon,” he said, adding that economic problems had further complicated the election process.

Mullojanov noted that the pandemic and the fall in oil prices had shrunk the job market and increased unemployment among Tajik labour migrants. This led to a significant drop in income and remittances and thus state revenue, too.

The analyst suggested that political instability elsewhere had also meant no risks could be taken when it came to an outlier opposition candidate.

“The events in Belarus demonstrated the authorities of the post-Soviet countries the danger of possible protest voting, when the elections become a trigger for social and political protests,” he continued. “Perhaps the events in Belarus caused the Tajik authorities to be wary of the appearance of self-nominated candidate Faromuz Irgashev in these elections.”

On September 14, the CEC published the full list of registered candidates. As well as the incumbent, Rustam Latifzoda from the Agrarian party, Abduhalim Gafforzoda from the Socialist party, Rustam Rahmatzoda from the Party of Economic Reform and Meroj Abdulloev from the Communist party will run.

All four of Rahmon’s opponents are members of the lower chamber of parliament and leaders of pro-government parties. All the parties also participated in the last two presidential campaigns and collectively collected less than five per cent of the votes. None disputed the results.

Presidential elections in Tajikistan are held every seven years, and this will be the sixth since independence. The constitution allows Rahmon the right to run an unlimited number of times.

This publication was prepared under the "Giving Voice, Driving Change - from the Borderland to the Steppes Project" implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway.

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