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Tajiks set to elect strongman leader for fourth term

06 november 2013, 16:51
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Voters in Tajikistan, the poorest state in the former USSR, were set Wednesday to hand President Emomali Rakhmon an easy victory for a fourth term at the helm of his country bordering Afghanistan, AFP reports.

In a tale all too familiar for elections throughout the Muslim but vehemently secular ex-Soviet states of Central Asia, the five candidates standing against Rakhmon are virtual unknowns even inside the country, with next to no chance of victory.

Rakhmon's most significant rival, female rights lawyer Oinikhol Bobonazarova of the moderate opposition Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan, was unable to stand after narrowly failing to muster the signatures required to register her candidacy.

Bobonazarova gathered only 202,000 of the 210,000 signatures required that equates to five percent of the electorate, a shortfall her party blamed on harassment from local authorities on its activists during the signature campaign.

Her party's spokesman confirmed that the Islamic Revival Party would not be taking part in the polls and would give its estimate after election day.

Another main opposition party, the Social Democratic Party, said it was boycotting the elections due to "violations of the constitution, organised falsifications and a lack of democracy and transparency."

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which is monitoring the polls, noted in its interim report that "there is no visible campaign by other candidates so far", while state media had "extensively and positively" covered the president's trips around the country.


'The result is clear'


At the entrance to Dushanbe Plaza, the capital's tallest building, Tajiks were greeted by live music and poll workers dressed in traditional costumes who were handing out free drinks in an effort to attract a bigger vote.

Rakhmon won the last election in 2006 with nearly 80 percent of the ballot on reported turnout of about 90 percent, and many expected him to do just as well this time around.

"I think the result is clear. We know who the president will be for the next seven years," said Abdurozik, 57, after casting his ballot.

A taxi driver named Rakhim, 43, expressed a similar sentiment.

"My only question is why they put up so many other candidates," he said. "Everyone knows Rakhmon. But who are these other guys?"

Shadowed by the more than 7,000-metre-high peaks of the Pamir Mountains, Persian-speaking Tajikistan boasts a crucial strategic position, bordering China and Afghanistan, as well as ex-Soviet Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

Its importance could grow with the pullout of US troops from Afghanistan in 2014.

Yet the resource-poor country suffers from chronic energy shortages and is mired in grinding poverty that has left it the poorest ex-Soviet state and forced many to work in Russia, with their remittances providing a crucial chunk of GDP.

Rakhmon, who came to power in 1992 amid the chaos of the start of Tajikistan's five-year civil war, has made the country's energy independence the key plank of his campaign, in particular ensuring the construction of his vastly ambitious pet project, the Rogun hydroelectric dam.

Tajikistan also suffers from dire relations with its regionally powerful neighbour Uzbekistan, with not even direct air connections between Dushanbe and Tashkent and trade stymied.

Rakhmon has a deeply acrimonious personal relationship with Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who has accused Dushanbe of trying to rob his country of precious water resources and effectively warned that the building of the Rogun dam could lead to war.

After his initial wartime appointment by the Tajik Supreme Soviet in 1992, Rakhmon enjoyed easy re-elections in 1994, 1999 and 2006. With the Tajik presidential mandate now seven years, he could potentially stay in power until 2020.

Rakhmon, 61, the father of nine children -- one of whom is tipped as a possible successor -- warned candidates ahead of the polls not to disrupt the state's stability and behave with "full patriotic responsibility".

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