Tajikistan: Observers' Election Fears

Electoral violations and administrative obstacles are damaging Tajikistan’s chances of holding free and fair elections.

Tajikistan: Observers' Election Fears

Electoral violations and administrative obstacles are damaging Tajikistan’s chances of holding free and fair elections.

International observers and Tajik opposition parties have noted a series of irregularities in the run-up to next week’s parliamentary ballot, which is being greeted with large-scale voter apathy.

Technical difficulties such as a lack of available voter lists and information on polling booths - and little or no publicity on television due to electricity supply problems – are stifling debate in the republic.

What little information is available is being greeted with apathy by the much of electorate, leading to increased concerns that the February 27 election will not be free or fair.

Latif Hadyazoda, who heads the Public Centre for Election Monitoring, a non-government body, told IWPR that opposition party member Bahrom Davronov was refused permission to contest the ballot by a member of the ruling People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan, PDPT.

The official allegedly told Davronov that no certificate of candidacy was available for him, and threatened to call the police if he didn’t go away.

United States diplomat Peter Eicher, who is heading a 155-strong team of international observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, noted that the registration process has been dogged by complaints from the outset.

“We are concerned by cases where certain candidates in particular districts were registered more quickly than other candidates,” he said. “This allowed them to start working with voters earlier, which is unfair in our opinion.”

Such widespread incidents make observers believe that the ruling party is influencing the decisions of the Tajik commission responsible for the elections.

One legal analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “The only conclusion we can come to is that the Central Commission on Elections is completely dependent on the authorities and the ruling party and so naturally will not create any obstacles for it.”

The OSCE has also expressed surprise and concern that local electoral commissions contain large numbers of state officials.

“When you encounter this, it is difficult to say whether [these officials] are interfering in the electoral process,” said Eicher, adding that it gave the impression that some of the committees are dependent on the government.

Political analysts and election monitors are also concerned that the PDPT may be exploiting its dominant position by using local government bodies – which are supposed to remain neutral – to recruit voters.

“Regional officials are organising meetings [for employees] that are apparently not connected with the elections but at the end of such meetings they call for those present to vote for the PDPT candidate,” said Hadyazoda.

But apart from the symbiosis between the state, electoral commissions and ruling party, other administrative problems look set to damage the elections

There are no voter lists for some constituencies, which means that not everyone will be told where their polling station is.

Dushanbe resident Mavluda told IWPR, “I decided to vote in these elections but I haven’t received any voter notification papers yet.

“With only days to go, I still don’t know which polling station to go to, so it looks like I most probably won’t be voting.”

Analysts believe that the passivity shown by many voters is being inadvertently encouraged by opposition candidates, many of whom have not taken their campaigns to the people, leaving the PDPT free to campaign to best effect.

Dushanbe’s billboards and walls are plastered with enormous colour posters for the PDPT, which contrast strongly with the few black and white leaflets belonging to the five opposition parties.

Meanwhile, Andrei Vasin from the northern town of Kairakum, alleged that a local candidate withheld vital supplies of water and electricity from the population.

“He was saying “If you vote for me and I become your parliamentary deputy, you will have water and heating,” Vasin claimed.

The OSCE notes that since supplies of electricity are sporadic across the former Soviet republic, with an average of three to six hours of power a day in areas outside the capital, little or no information about the election is being seen by television viewers – adding to concerns about the fairness of the ballot.

“I don’t watch television at all because there’s no electricity, so I still don’t know who our candidate will be,” said one potential voter from the village of Vahdat, just outside Dushanbe.

“It looks as if I’ll have to vote the way the authorities tell me to, or else I won’t vote at all,” he added, reflecting a widespread feeling that the results of the elections are a foregone conclusion.

One independent legal analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IWPR that the 2005 election is likely to follow the pattern laid down in 2000, where the PDPT won a large majority in the face of widespread electoral violations documented by the OSCE.

“The old game of elections being used to create the illusion of democracy is being repeated,” he said.

“But why is this farce needed when it’s obvious that the PDPT is going to win again?”

Gulnora Amirshoeva is an IWPR editor in Dushanbe. Akbar Sharifi is an IWPR contributor in Dushanbe.

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