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Tajikistan: Three Of Four Candidates Plan To Boycott Presidential Race

Three out of four candidates in Tajikistan's upcoming presidential election said yesterday that they plan to boycott the race, complaining that they were not given enough time to comply with registration requirements. If they do drop out of the race, incumbent President Imomali Rakhmonov would run uncontested. RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier looks at what a serious setback that would be for Tajikistan's effort to achieve peace after a five-year civil war.

Prague, 8 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The three opponents to incumbent Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov held a press conference yesterday and announced they are boycotting next month's presidential elections. They encouraged their supporters to do the same.

The three say they have not had sufficient time to gather the requisite signatures to be officially registered as candidates. They did hold out the prospect they would renew participation in the race if they are given more time to gather signatures. But the possibility exists that the first presidential race in post-war Tajikistan may be uncontested.

It was only at the end of September that candidates began announcing their intentions to participate in the presidential election. Incumbent President Imomali Rakhmonov was the first to announce -- to nobody's surprise. He was quickly followed by his three challengers: Saifiddin Turayev of the Justice Party, Sultan Kuvatov of the Democratic Party, and Economics Minister Davlat Usmon of the Islamic Renaissance Party. Those three sensed early on that the main hurdle to official registration would be the collection of 145,000 signatures from eligible voters. The three first threatened a boycott last week, saying the deadline for submitting the required signatures, originally set for October 6, must be extended.

Tajik television and radio have reported that the deadline has been extended, but there has been no official decree to that effect. The confusion led to yesterday's press conference. Candidate Saifiddin Turayev explained what prompted the boycott announcement.

"The reason (for the boycott announcement) was that according to the decree of the Central Elections Commission, today [Oct. 7] at 6:00 pm the deadline (for gathering signatures) expired. The one-day extension was announced by radio and television but nobody announced any official decree about this. We sent telegrams to local authorities about the ability to collect signatures freely and fairly. I visited six regions yesterday [Oct. 6] and talked with their leaders. None had received the telegrams."

The three candidates did say that they will continue to collect signatures in the hope the Central Election Commission would officially offer an extension. Turayev said they will continue to search for a solution.

"We have to find a political solution to this. All three candidates will talk with international organizations, the speaker of the Majlis Oli (parliament) and the head of the Central Elections Commission. In the next two days, every candidate will work together with his staff to find a solution."

Tajikistan's Central Elections Commission, the body that regulates the election process, now faces a daunting decision. The country was embroiled in a civil war from 1992 to 1997 and much ill will still lingers. The two warring factions had reached a compromise to end the war, agreeing to share power in government. They have done, this despite the numerous outbreaks of violence that threatened to shatter the peace deal. President Rakhmonov held the country's top post during the civil war and since the signing of the peace accord. He is widely expected to win the November 6 election as well.

But for his win to be seen as legitimate, the election must be free and fair. The United Nations, the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe, and the countries that signed on as guarantors of the Tajik peace accord have all pushed Tajikistan to hold elections as a sign of stability. If no one but Rakhmonov runs next month, it will be a bad reflection on the efforts of these parties to help Tajikistan move forward out of war. It also may renew tensions among the former foes -- and that could have disastrous consequences. The situation is reminiscent of Azerbaijan's presidential race last year. Opposition candidates in that race acted the same way, announcing a boycott to protest what they saw as unfair election procedures. At that time, the OSCE tried to persuade the boycotters to agree to participate, but it was n-o-t successful and the incumbent, Heidar Aliyev, ran unopposed. International observers subsequently criticized that election.

(Abbas Djavadi of the Tajik Service contributed to this report.)