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A man in Dushanbe casts his ballot in the country's presidential election on October 11.

Voters in Tajikistan cast ballots in a presidential election on October 11 that is expected to extend authoritarian President Emomali Rahmon’s rule over the impoverished Central Asian nation for another seven years.

The Central Election Commission (CEC) reported that more than 70 percent of eligible voters had participated in the election by midafternoon, more than the 50 percent needed to validate the election.

Authorities organized concerts, food giveaways, and other enticements aimed at getting out the vote. Some voters were brought to polling stations by bus. Instances of ballot stuffing were reported.

First official results are expected on October 12.

In power since 1992, Rahmon has won four consecutive presidential elections, none of which were deemed free or fair by Western monitors, and is the only post-Soviet autocrat in power longer than Belarus's Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Tajik Leader Set To Extend Authoritarian Rule
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The election comes as Tajikistan’s economic woes deepen amid the COVID-19 pandemic as hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are unable to travel to Russia for jobs not available at home, halting a flow of remittances needed to fuel the local economy.

The 68-year-old Rahmon was running against four little-known candidates that represent pro-government parties in the country’s rubber-stamp parliament. They are widely seen as little more than a facade to give the vote the appearance of competition.

Rahmon cast his ballot in the morning in Dushanbe and declined to speak with journalists.

Tajik President Votes To Extend Rule
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'No Point In Voting'

Elsewhere in Dushanbe, ballot fraud was reported. RFE/RL video appeared to show two men stuffing ballots into voting urns at a polling station in the Tajik capital.

Apparent Ballot Stuffing Filmed During Tajik Polls
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The election was the first since Rahmon's most-influential political rival, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), was outlawed. The country's Supreme Court banned the IRPT as a "terrorist" organization in 2015. Many of the party leaders and officials have been imprisoned, while others fled the country amid a clampdown.

The Social Democratic Party, the only genuine political opposition group inside the country, boycotted the election.

Two Tajik Voters Tell RFE/RL They Cast Multiple Ballots
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Party leader Rahmatullo Zoirov told RFE/RL that there was no point in voting because "even if one votes against all the candidates, the CEC will pronounce its own numbers and results."

With a suppressed opposition and Rahmon’s tight grip on the country, the vote is unlikely to result in the turmoil currently engulfing neighboring Kyrgyzstan, which is lurching through its third political upheaval in under two decades after disputed parliamentary elections earlier this month.

Rahmon’s nomination in late August ended speculation that he may step aside to allow his eldest son, Rustam Emomali, to run for office.

In April, Emomali, 32, was made the speaker of the upper house of parliament, a role that positions him to take over for his father if he is unable to fulfill his duties.

Emomali also continues to hold the lucrative position of mayor of the capital, Dushanbe.

Speculation about Emomali’s succession initially began in 2016, when Tajikistan amended its constitution to lower the age threshold for presidential candidates from 35 years to 30 years. The move was seen as being aimed at paving the way for Emomali to run for president.

The amendments also gave Rahmon the exclusive right to run for office an unlimited number of times.

How The Tajik President Has Managed To Stay In Power For Nearly Three Decades

Further securing his dominant position in the country, parliament gave Rahmon the title of the Leader of the Nation in December 2015, a status that grants him lifelong immunity from prosecution.

The October 11 vote marks the second nationwide vote in Tajikistan this year. In March, the country held parliamentary polls that produced another rubber-stamp legislature dominated by Rahmon's People’s Democratic Party.

Voting opened at 6 a.m. local time in 3,375 polling stations across the country, with nearly 5 million eligible voters registered to cast their ballots.

Alyaksandr Lukashenka

Belarusian state media have reported that strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka met with jailed Belarusian opposition leaders in a detention center run by the country's KGB security service -- ostensibly to discuss plans for constitutional reforms.

The meeting saw Lukashenka sit down with political opponents that he has jailed for months in order to talk about his political course ahead.

"I am trying to convince not only your supporters but the whole of society that one needs to look at things more broadly," Lukashenka said in a video excerpt from the meeting that was broadcast by state television.

The European Union and the United States have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate president of Belarus after he claimed a landslide victory in an August election that has been widely criticized as fraudulent.

The results have been contested by his main rival, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, as well as opposition figures across the country.

A photo posted by Lukashenka's press service on the Telegram messenger app showed him sitting at an oval table with prisoners who included Viktar Babaryka, a banker once seen as Lukashenka’s toughest rival in the August elections but who was prevented from running and jailed.

Others in the picture include Lilia Vlasova, a lawyer who is a member of the opposition's Coordination Council, and the Belarusian-American political analyst Vitali Shkliarov. All look pale and unsmiling.

Belarusian opposition figures described the visit as a sign of weakness from Lukashenka.

Tsikhanouskaya, who has taken refuge in Lithuania, wrote on social media on October 10 that Lukashenka had "acknowledged the existence of political prisoners whom he used to call criminals." But she said "you can't have dialogue in a prison cell."

Tsikhanouskaya also said she was allowed on October 10 to have her first phone call in four months with her jailed husband, video blogger Syarhey Tsikhanouski.

Tsikhanouskaya only stood as a presidential candidate against Lukashenka after the jailing of her husband by Belarusian authorities eliminated his possibility of running in the election.

Paval Latushka, a former Belarusian diplomat who became a member of the opposition's Coordination Council, wrote on social media that the October 10 meeting in the detention center "showed we are on the right track.”

Latushka said Lukashenka was "forced to sit down for talks with those he himself put behind bars."

In a brief video excerpt, Lukashenka told the political prisoners: "You can't rewrite the constitution on the street." He was referring to mass demonstrations that have continued across the country since election officials announced a tally showing Lukashenka with about 80 percent of the August vote.

October 10 also saw the latest protest against Lukashenka -- a now regular event in which women hold peaceful marches, often carrying flowers.

With reporting by AFP, TASS, and Interfax

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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