DUSHANBE -- Electoral officials in Tajikistan said President Emomali Rahmon's ruling party won parliamentary elections that were marred by violations, criticized by international monitors, and dismissed as a "farce" by the Communist Party leader.
For the first time since Tajikistan gained independence in the 1991 Soviet collapse, the Communists and the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) failed to clear the 5 percent threshold needed to win parliamentary seats.
Election Commission Chairman Shermuhammad Shohiyon announced on March 2 that the People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan, led by Rahmon, received 65.2 percent of the votes cast in the March 1 elections. He said voter turnout was 87.7 percent.
A senior international observer said "an honest count could not be guaranteed" because of instances of ballot-box stuffing, multiple voting, and "disregard of counting procedures."
Rahmon, 62, has ruled Tajikistan since 1992 and is backed by Moscow, which has thousands of troops stationed in the Central Asian nation bordering violence-torn Afghanistan.
The Agrarian Party, the Economic Reform Party, and the Socialist Party also won seats in parliament, the latter gaining entrance to the 63-seat lower parliament house, the Majlisi Namoyandagon, for the first time.
The Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Party, which is a vocal critic of the government, fell short of the threshold.
Communist Party leader Shodi Shabdolov called the elections "a political farce" but said it "makes no sense" to mount an official challenge, suggesting he doubted it could lead to a review or reversal of the announced results.
A representative of the Party of the Islamic Renaissance, Muhammadali Hait, said the elections were not transparent as his party was not allowed to be present at the vote counting, which was held behind closed doors.
The IRPT is the only officially registered Islamic party in former Soviet Central Asia. Banned during Tajikistan's 1992-97 civil war, it played a major part in the conflict and the peace talks and was legalized again after a peace accord was signed in 1997.
RFE/RL’s Tajik Service documented several irregularities on election day. They included widespread cases in which one person cast ballots for an entire family, a lack of election monitors, and instances in which volunteer poll workers advised people whom to vote for.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) international observer mission said on March 2 that the parliamentary polls took place in a "restricted political space" and failed to provide a level playing field for candidates.
"Engagement by various political forces in this campaign was, unfortunately, not enough to result in truly competitive elections. Uneven treatment by the authorities and remaining legal restrictions limited the space for debate on the real problems facing Tajikistan," said Marietta Tidei, the special coordinator and leader of the short-term OSCE observer mission.
The head of the European Parliament's delegation in the observer mission, Norbert Neuser, in a statement that he was pleased that "the vote took place in a calm and peaceful manner."
But he said that "significant shortcomings, including multiple voting and ballot-box stuffing, and disregard of counting procedures meant that an honest count could not be guaranteed."
More than half of the vote counts monitored by Western observers were assessed negatively.
The head of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights' (OSCE/ODIHR) long-term election observation mission, Miklos Haraszti, said that state-run media outlets were used by the authorities to promote the ruling party, while other parties were not given any chance to announce their goals and programs.
"Genuinely democratic elections cannot be held without real debate in the media, an independent election administration, and an environment free of repression. Unfortunately all of these were missing," Haraszti said.
He expressed hope that "the electoral reform process will move forward in addressing the serious shortcomings we have observed."
An interim report during the campaign said the IRPT and the Social Democrats reported being subject to political pressure.
No Tajik election has ever been declared free and fair by international observers.