DUSHANBE (Reuters) - Tajikistan, a poor ex-Soviet nation north of Afghanistan, held a parliamentary election on Sunday certain to be won by President Imomali Rakhmon’s party despite growing popular discontent and fraud complaints.
Any instability in the Muslim nation would worry the West, which relies on Tajikistan to transit supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan and harbour thousands of refugees from the conflict.
Tajikistan has never held a vote judged free and fair by Western observers and analysts expect Rakhmon’s People’s Democratic Party to keep the majority of seats in the 63-seat Majlisi Namoyandagon lower house of the parliament.
The leading contenders among seven other parties running in the poll are pro-government Communists and the opposition Islamic Revival Party, both represented in the current legislature but with only a handful of deputies.
Although there have been no signs of outright unrest or public protests, ordinary Tajiks have become increasingly frustrated with Rakhmon’s 17-year rule due to deepening economic crisis and poverty. Up to half the workforce have left the country to work abroad, mostly in Russia.
The central election commission declared the vote valid at noon after more than half of 3.5 million eligible voters had cast their votes, but opposition and Western observers said they had witnessed some irregularities.
Some voters also questioned the poll.
“There is no hope,” Dushanbe resident Alisher Sodiyev, 62, said after casting his ballot. “They will not allow the party I have voted for into parliament.”
Mukhiddin Kabiri, the leader of the Islamic Revival Party, said his supporters had already registered “numerous irregularities” during the voting. “Those include multiple voting, voting for family members and hindering the work of our observers by elections officials,” Kabiri told Reuters.
Another opposition politician, Rakhmatillo Zoyirov of the Social Democratic party, said his name was not on the list of registered voters at the polling station.
A western observer told Reuters he saw an opposition candidate from Rakhmon’s home constituency of Dangara being prevented from voting by local election officials.
“The candidate showed up to vote only to find out that someone had voted for him already,” the observer said, adding that he had also witnessed multiple voting and ballot stuffing.
Rafael, a student, said the same had happened to him.
“I came to vote but someone had already voted for me,” he said. “In the end they offered me to vote ‘again’. How can one believe the results of such elections?”
Mukhibullo Dajanov, a senior official at the central election commission, said it had not registered any serious violations of the law.
“There are reports of irregularities but not on a mass scale,” he said. “We react to all those reports and take appropriate measures.”
Rakhmon made no mention of allegations of irregularities as he cast his ballot in Dushanbe, a city where neoclassical mansions of the newly rich stand alongside shabby wood-and-clay houses with plastic film instead of window glass.
“These elections are important for the country’s future development and people’s wellbeing,” he said at a polling station, all poor-looking houses in its vicinity hidden from public view by quickly erected plastic shields.
The global crisis has put Tajikistan’s economy, devastated by the 1990s civil war, under fresh stress, cutting remittances from migrant labourers by a third last year and sending down prices for aluminium, the key Tajik export.
Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by Philippa Fletcher