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Tajikistan To Hold Elections After Invisible Campaign

  • Farangis Najibullah

Parliamentary polls will be held in Tajikistan on March 1 following an election campaign that international monitors said was "not visible."

Elections officials have registered 288 candidates from eight political parties to contest for 63 seats of the lower chamber of parliament, the Majlisi Namoyandagon.

President Emomali Rahmon's People's Democratic Party, which controls 55 seats in the outgoing parliament, is widely expected to win by a landslide.

The main political rival of the ruling party has been the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) -- the only officially registered Islamic party in Central Asia -- led by Muhiddin Kabiri.

The IRPT and the Social Democrat Party are vocal critics of the government, while other parties describe themselves as constructive opposition and openly support government policies.

The election process is being monitored by the International Election Observation Mission that comprises some 228 observers from 39 countries, including from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the European Parliament.

In an interim report, the OSCE said that outside of free airtime on state media, the election campaign was "not visible."

The report also said the OSCE/ODIHR election observer mission "was informed by journalists that self-censorship is commonplace."

It said the IRPT and the Social Democratic Party reported being subject to political pressure and expressed concerns about a lack of a level playing field for campaigning."

The two parties have complained that their election posters were removed from billboards and walls.

Social Democratic Party head Rahmatullo Zoirov said 80 percent of the party's election posters were torn down in the capital, Dushanbe.

Zoirov said some police officers were involved in tearing down the opposition party's posters.

The authorities rejected the claim.

The IRPT has repeatedly spoken about what it describes as "pressures" against the party in the runup to the elections, including an ongoing smear campaign aimed to discredit the party members and supporters.

Local authorities closed down several of the IRPT's offices in the northern Sughd Province, citing "neighborhood redevelopment" plans.

A series of sex tapes appeared on the Internet last year that purport to show religious figures with links to the IRPT taking part in sex acts.

In November, the IRPT labeled a scandalous sex video purporting to show a female IRPT member from the rural Kulob region as an attack on the party ahead of parliamentary elections.

Authorities, however, reject any wrongdoing and insist the election process has been free and fair.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service obtained a copy of what appeared to be a text for mosque sermons following Friday Prayers on February 27.

The text focuses on the elections.

Without naming any party or candidate, the text calls on people to vote for "the party which has been tried and tested...and has brought peace and prosperity for the nation."

The text also says "Islam does not need a party," and that no one should use religion for personal or political gain.

The state religious affairs committee said the text has been provided as a "recommendation" by the Islamic Center, an independent body that supports government policies.

On February 27, Mavlavi Mahmud, the imam of the Dushanbe central mosque, dedicated the Friday Prayers to the parliamentary elections.

The imam praised what he described as the president's role in Tajikistan's peace, stability, and development.

The imam said "everyone is free to vote for any candidate" but urged people "not to forget certain people's services" to the country.

Of the 63 Majlis seats that are available, 22 will be elected from party lists and 41 will be elected by a majority vote in single-member constituencies.

If no candidate receives a majority of the vote, a second round will be held within two weeks.

According to election officials, more than 4.3 million people are registered to vote.

No election held under Rahmon -- who has been president since 1994 -- has been deemed free or fair by Western observers.

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