Emomali Rahmon has won re-election to the presidency of Tajikistan for a sixth term in a result that will shock precisely no-one. He is declared to have won just over 90% of the votes cast on an 85% turnout, beating four (male) rivals.
No election in Tajikistan has been considered to be genuinely free and fair since the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Rahmon (then Rahmonov) has led the country since 1994 and is credited with ending the five year civil war. He is the only candidate exempt from term limits and has been granted the honorific ‘Leader of the Nation’ by the lower house of Parliament. Tajikistan follows the ‘strong-presidential’ of most states in the region and its leaders have been elected for seven-year terms since 1999.
There had been some speculation that Rahmon might succeeded by his son Rustam Emomali but this did not come to pass and the incumbent stood against candidates representing the Agrarian Party, Party of Economic Reform, Socialist Party and Communist Party. All were broadly pro-government. Opposition activist Faromuz Irgashev and Saidjafar Usmonzoda of the Democratic Party were denied registration and the Social Democratic Party – the only formal opposition party in the parliament – announced it would boycott the polls.
Whilst the constitution of Tajikistan allows for free campaigning and equal access to the media, the reality was a lacklustre campaign with no rallies or activities on the ground – despite the election being a month earlier than is traditional for Tajik elections and the weather therefore being more conducive to outdoor activity. TV debates mostly consisted of candidates reading pre-prepared statements and had no questioning or back-and-forth. Domestic observers are prohibited in the country and only representatives of organisations which nominated candidates may attend polling stations. International observers are permitted, but OSCE/ODIHR was only able to send a small assessment team because of Covid-19. A longer term mission from CIS, a body which traditionally whitewashes authoritarian elections, was present.
Rahmon appeared to have genuine popularity in the early days as the person who brought the country out of civil war. But the economy is in decline and the effects of Covid-19 have been to make living conditions even more difficult. Tajikistan is reliant internally on trade with Russia and many hundreds of thousands of citizens work abroad for part or all of the year, sending remittances back to the country. Recently there has also been some Chinese investment as part of the Belt and Road Initiative and there is an attempt to relax some of the notorious border bureaucracy between the five central asian states – an initiative from Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. However it is clear that the country is struggling and does not have the petro-chemical or abstraction resources that some of its neighbours can rely on.
In common with Turkmenistan, Tajikistan is the subject of much speculation as to its future direction. Dushanbe has long had Russian military bases on its soil but has now taken the decision also to allow the Chinese to build a base in the East of the country. As with the other countries of central Asia, Russia has little interest in re-absorbing the states into its territory given the likely costs of doing so. But they view these states as ‘the near abroad’ – a backyard in which it does not intend to allow others to gain too much control. The presence of the Chinese base has also alarmed India following the clashes that have taken place between the two countries in recent weeks.
RFE/RL reported that many people had cast multiple ballots with those who did so saying that they voted on behalf of family members who could not get to the polls. This proxy voting has been common across Tajikistan and some of its neighbours for many years.
Nevertheless, Rahmon was delared the outright winner in a contest which envisaged a second round if no candidate won more than half the votes cast and fresh elections if turnout fell below 50%.
Result (source RFE/RL):
Emomali Rahmon (People’s Democratic Party) 90.92%
Rustam Latifzoda (Agrarian Party) 3.03%
Rustam Rahmatzoda (Party of Economic Reform) 2.15%
Abduhalim Ghafforzoda (Socialist Party) 1.49%
Miroj Abdulloyev (Communist Party) 1.17%
What makes this result interesting is that candidates were required to secure the signatures of 5% of the electorate in order to be registered. That four candidates should have managed this feat but failed to secure that same number of votes in the actual election is further testimony to the unsatisfactory nature of the election.