The poorest of the former Soviet republics is holding elections this Wednesday to decide the president of Tajikistan. The Central Asian country’s incumbent, Emomali Rakhmon, is standing for a fourth term.This is made possible by reforms enacted in 2003, which give him the potential to rule until 2020. He has been head of state since 1992. Opposition party candidates are notably absent.
Mountainous Tajikistan is landlocked by Afghanistan to the south, China to the east, Kyrgyzstan to the north and Uzbekistan to the west.
After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, for six years the Tajiks waged a civil war, factions – including Islamist guerrillas – fighting each another. The economy went from bad to worse, forcing many to leave. The money workers send back from abroad makes up more than 40 percent of the nation’s GDP. Drug trafficking is the biggest source of illegal income.
The average monthly wage is around 100 euros. Nearly half the people live below poverty level. Per person GDP last year was 637 euros. The population is roughly eight million and is at least nine-tenths Sunni Muslim.
Oynihol Bobonazarova pulled out of the running – the first woman – under a moderate Islam banner – after campaigners were pressured into giving up collecting the 210,000 signatures required to run in the election.
Bobonazarova said: “The economy is in a dire state, and human rights, especially freedom of speech and religion, are totally impossible to exercise now.”
Rakhmon’s government is heavily dependent on Russia for imported energy. Electricity is rotated and rationed outside the main cities. Every winter, Tajikistan is short of power because it lacks generating stations. It had famine in 2001. The incidence of polio here is rising.
Literacy is generally high, and gradual improvements have elicited expressions of public approval for the incumbent.
Voter Erady Asadullayev, a store salesman, said: “I think our president is the best candidate because he has vast experience and he has really done a lot for the country.’‘
The five other candidates who qualified are little-known and loyal to Rakhmon. International organisations such as the OECD say they have been invisible, while state media has given him extensive coverage, so he is fully expected to be reconfirmed in Dushanbe.