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Tajikistan: Youth Appear Unenthused By Presidential Vote

A Tajik military officer reads a newspaper that features the incumbent on Page One (AFP) PRAGUE, November 1, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Voters in Central Asia's poorest republic, Tajikistan, go to the polls to elect a president on November 6. Incumbent President Imomali Rakhmonov is expected to defeat four obscure opponents by a wide margin, dampening coverage and public debate in the campaign phase. RFE/RL correspondents polled young people across Tajikistan recently in an attempt to gauge their interest, and the answers suggest that Tajik youths are among the least enthusiastic of voters.

Young people have plenty of important things to think about -- whether it's the prospect of marriage, having children, or finding a job. Politics is rarely a priority for people under 25 or 30 years of age anywhere in the world.

But Tajikistan's upcoming presidential election appears to rate especially low among young people there.

Said Hilolov is a young man from the Rasht region, which is roughly in the center of Tajikistan and about 200 kilometers east of the capital, Dushanbe. His views on the upcoming poll were typical of the responses that RFE/RL received.

"Most of the young people here are interested in other things than elections. In Rasht, they are harvesting fruit; so most young people won't go to the polls, they will be picking fruit from morning until night. Most young people think more about business than elections."

"Most young people won't go to the polls, they will be picking fruit from morning until night."

Hilolov said he would go and vote, although many of his friends would not.

Tohir Khudoidodov is a young man from Khorog, the administrative capital in the mountainous Badakhshan region of southeastern Tajikistan. It is difficult to reach this area from rest of Tajikistan, and roads are often blocked in the winter.

"Today, most young people don't have information about elections and candidates," Khudoidodov described voter disinterest where he lives. "In Khorog, there are no campaign posters, no banners, nothing about the candidates. The attitude of young people here is apathy."

Foregone Conclusion?

University students in Dushanbe appeared only slightly more excited about the presidential ballot. But one student, Kadridin, told RFE/RL that the outcome of the poll is obvious to everyone.

Tajik students (RFE/RL file photo)

"Most young people will go to vote. But all the same, they are sure that the current president will win," Kadridin said. "The candidates are campaigning at the universities, but the campaigning of the incumbent president is strong. For example, he often appears on television giving speeches, helping children's schools -- in a word: campaigning."

The northern Soghd region is politically robust compared to most other parts of the country. In Tajikistan's first presidential election in 1994, a local candidate from Soghd, Abdumalik Abdullojonov, won more than one-third of the vote in an election that many felt was rigged against him.

One might expect the youth in Soghd region would be a little more enthusiastic. But a young man named Jamshed said that is not the case.

"For young people, whether there is an election or not makes no difference," Jamshed shrugged. "The problem young people have with elections is that [elections] are not interesting at all."

Voters Abroad

Tajik citizens abroad can vote, too. Most Tajik expatriates are in Russia, where by some estimates 1 million Tajiks travel to work as migrant laborers.

RFE/RL found some of those Tajik nationals in Moscow, where they can vote at the Tajik Embassy.

But when we asked about the presidential election, most echoed the sentiments of Majid Hasanov: "We don't have any information about the elections, at least I don't have any. I heard about it, about the elections, but I don't know anything about them."

Another Tajik citizen working in Moscow, Said Pirov, spoke bitterly about President Rakhmonov. But he also indicated that he did not plan to vote.

"In Moscow, Tajiks are considered worse than dogs, and this is all because of our president," Pirov said. "Why do we need an election if Tajiks are viewed this way in Moscow? And this all because of our president, because he doesn't improve the work of our embassy [in Moscow]."

Whoever wins this presidential race, Tajikistan might be well served by an election that is free of major accusations of fraud or vote-rigging. But the perception shared by many of the young people polled by RFE/RL -- that this election is a formality, with a foregone conclusion -- may not bode well for a democratic future.

Tajikistan is still recovering from the 1992-97 civil war that divided the nation and nearly ruined the economy. In that context, domestic and international observers might welcome a more convincing demonstration that people are willing to solve problems through the ballot box.

(Rasul Shodiev of RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report)

Tajikistan's Presidential Election

Tajikistan's Presidential Election

Imomali Rakhmonov has ruled Tajikistan since 1992 (epa file photo)

A THIRD TERM? On November 6, Tajikistan will hold its first presidential election since 1999. Incumbent President Imomali Rakhmonov is seeking a third term under controversial constitutional amendments adopted in 2003. The opposition has accused Rakhmonov's administration of using dirty tricks and legal pressure to split and weaken opposition parties. Most observers believe the November ballot will be less competitive than the 1999 election.


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Opposition Disorganized As Presidential Election Nears

Lone Islamic Party Pursues Dual Path To Challenge Incumbent

Fractured Opposition Faces Uphill Battle Before Election


RFE/RL's coverage of Tajikistan. An RFE/RL web special on Tajikistan's 2005 legislative elections.


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