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Tajikistan Sees High Voter Turnout --> Prague, 27 February 2005 -- Voter turnout at polling stations in Tajikistan early today was reported to be higher than during parliamentary elections in 2000.

In some areas, reports say voters were lining up at polling station for more than 30 minutes to cast their ballots for the lower house of parliament -- known in Dushanbe as the Majlisi Namoyandagon.

Six parties are vying for the 63 seats available in the lower house. Twenty-two of those will be awarded on the basis of party lists. The remaining 41 seats will be decided through contests in single-mandate districts. In all, nearly 230 candidates are competing for places in parliament.

By mid-afternoon, Central Election Commission Chairman Mirzoali Boltuev said that 54.7 percent of the eligible voters had cast ballots -- making the election valid under Tajikistan's electoral law.

As he cast his ballot in Dushanbe, President Rakhmonov praised the elections. At the same time, he offered cautionary words to those with high expectations about the polls.

"I think [the current election process] is much more transparent than the previous election," Rakhmonov said. "I would not compare elections in our society to those in the United States and the West. I do not deny our shortcomings. We are just at the starting point of the creation of a democratic, secular country with the rule of law."

Rakhmonov's People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDPT) won 65 percent of the seats in parliament in the 2000 elections. Weeks ahead of today's vote, the party seemed poised to maintain, and probably increase the number of seats it controls.

The PDPT fielded 61 candidates, nearly twice as many candidates as any other party.

Of the five other parties, most analysts predict that only the Islamic Renaissance Party and the Communist Party of Tajikistan will win seats in the lower house.

The Central Election Commission is required to release preliminary results within 24 hours of the time polling stations close tonight.

As he voted, President Rakhmonov also gave the press the strongest hint to date that he intends to run for reelection in next year's presidential vote:

"I am still young, energetic, not quite so old, and I am not yet planning to leave politics," Rakhmonov said. "I created the People's Democratic Party and I will work as the leader of the political party."

There are more than 400 international election monitors observing the poll -- including missions from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Both the CIS mission and the OSCE are expected to issue statements on the campaign and the balloting process tomorrow.

For more on the elections in Tajikistan, see our dedicated "Tajikistan Votes 2005"webpage.