Voters in Tajikistan went to the polls on Sunday (October 11th) for a presidential election set to further extend outgoing head of state Emomali Rahmon’s hold over the poverty-stricken former Soviet republic in Central Asia. The 68-year-old authoritarian ruler is expected to be elected for another seven-year term, thus extending his record for longevity in power in the former Soviet space.
Mr. Rahmon, in charge of the country since 1992 and especially during the civil war that bloodied the country until 1997, voted on Sunday in “A school for gifted children”, according to Russian agency Ria Novosti, waving to the press and visibly in a good mood. He slipped his ballot into the ballot box, wearing a surgical mask, due to the Covid-19 epidemic, as did the assessors from the polling stations surrounding him.
These opened at 6 a.m. and closed as scheduled at 8 p.m. local (5 p.m. in Paris). The result of the ballot is due to be announced on Monday. By 10 a.m., voter turnout was already 70%.
All opposition ruled out
Facing Mr. Rahmon, four candidates considered to be stooges for the president, the latter having over decades removed from the political scene any form of opposition. Their role is “To give an illusion of the countryside to what would otherwise be a non-event”says John Heathershaw, professor of international relations at the University of Exeter in the UK.
Mr. Rahmon’s candidacy was formally proposed in August by the Tajik unions, which explained their decision by the fact that the head of state had allowed the “Restoration of national unity, peace and stability” after the civil war.
The only party considered to be opposition in the country, the Social Democratic Party, boycotted the poll. “All the power, all its levers work for the benefit of one man”, denounced to Agence France-Presse the number two of the party, Chokirjon Hakimov, for whom “Nepotism, regionalism and corruption” characterize the regime in place.
Many voters questioned Sunday morning praised their leader. Others regretted that the poll was just a formality and were at a loss to name the Tajik leader’s competitors. “Whoever wins every time will win again”, noted Abdoukholik Faïzov, a student: ” It’s obvious. We are still waiting for free elections. “
No election recognized as honest
In recent months, the president has also appeared to organize his succession by placing his eldest son, Roustam Emomali, 32, in a key post. Mayor of the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, he has also been head of the Senate since April. However, in the event of the incapacity of the head of state, it is for the president of this chamber to assume the interim presidency.
Tajikistan is the poorest country in Central Asia and the former USSR, officially with a population of over nine million. Hundreds of thousands of Tajiks, however, work in Russia or Kazakhstan, especially on construction sites, to be able to send money to their families.
No election has ever been recognized as fair by observers of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and this was notably the case with the last parliamentary elections in the spring.