According to Tajikistan's election officials, President Emomali Rahmon's People's Democratic Party is on course to win the vast majority of 63 seats in the next parliament -- winning nearly 72 percent of the vote.
For the first time, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) appears to have moved ahead of the Communist Party. Partial results give the party 7.7 percent of the vote. The Communists were in third place with 7.2 percent. Other opposition parties, including the Democratic Party and the Social Democrats, likely failed to pass the 5 percent threshold needed to get a seat.
But for the first time, election officials say two other small, progovernment parties -- the Economic Reforms Party and the Agrarian Party -- possibly made it into parliament.
The results released today are from the 22 seats decided through a party-list system -- considered the best chance for opposition parties to win any parliamentary seat. The rest -- 41 seats -- are decided through votes in single-mandate constituencies. Those results have yet to be announced.
The official turnout in the February 28 vote in the impoverished former Soviet nation was high as usual, reaching 87 percent. 'Serious Irregularities'
Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) cited "serious irregularities" on election day, including "a high prevalence of family and proxy voting and cases of ballot-box stuffing."
In a statement, Pia Christmas-Moeller, special cocoordinator of the OSCE's short-term observers and vice president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, said: "I'm happy that election day took place in a generally good atmosphere, but I'm even more disappointed that these elections failed on many basic democratic standards."
OSCE observers delivered their scathing report about the elections in Dushanbe today.
The ruling party's landslide victory did not come as a surprise to a majority of voters. Neither did the OSCE's criticism of the elections.
Rahmon has been ruling the Central Asian nation with an iron fist since 1992, handily winning every presidential election, while his party has held an absolute majority in each parliament since a party-based elections system was introduced in 2000.
Each Tajik election since then has been criticized by the OSCE for failing to meet democratic requirements.
Opposition parties were swift in their criticism of the election, saying the vote was far from transparent.
Muhiddin Kabiri, the leader of the IRP -- seen by many as the main rival to the ruling party -- accused election officials of facilitating multiple voting and of not allowing IRP monitors to vote count. At least one IRP candidate, Ashurali Abdulhaev, abruptly withdrew from the parliamentary race two days before the election, saying he was "threatened by two unknown assailants in the middle of the night."
The Social Democratic Party, which has never made it into parliament, said "the names of all but one candidate – from the ruling party – were scored out in voting ballots" in some districts.Attracting New Supporters
While the ruling party's victory was a foregone conclusion, many Tajiks were curious to know who would come in second.
In the past two legislatures, the Communists were the second-largest party, once holding a parliamentary faction with five MPs. Despite its occasional criticism of the ruling party, the Communist Party has never been considered a real opposition to Rahmon. Its presence in the parliament as the second-largest party suited the ruling party, as well as staunch supporters of the secular system in the country.
However, the IRP has managed to enhance its presence in society since the last election in 2005, attracting new supporters among a young generation increasingly dissatisfied with a lack of jobs and opportunities. Investing money and effort in the election campaign, IRP leaders said they were "eyeing to form at least a parliamentary faction" in the next Majlisi Namoyandagon (Chamber of Representatives).
Even its critics admit the Islamic party was the most active political group during the election campaign, trying to gain support even in areas that traditionally backed the ruling party or other secular groups.
Democracy Versus Secular System
In a country that borders Afghanistan and shares the same language and culture with Iran, the IRP's growing influence in Tajik society has caused anxiety and suspicion. Despite an increasing respect for Islamic values, most Tajiks still firmly favor a secular system.
The IRP is the only officially registered Islamic party in Central Asia. Any success by the party will be seen by Tajiks as a victory for democracy but also as a real threat to the secular system of governance.
Faridun Ali, an expert on domestic politics in the northern town of Khujand, tells RFE/RL that boosting its presence in the parliament even by one additional seat would be the first step for the IRP in its "obvious long-term plan."
However, echoing a sentiment shared by many, Ali says that, despite all its efforts, "in the foreseeable future, in the next decade, the IRP will not be able to form an Islamic government or to reach a majority in the parliament, even if we had democratic elections."
"The majority of voters were raised during Soviet times. These people's mentality is a big barrier for the IRP to gain popular support," Ali says. "Besides, the IRP doesn't have a strong program to convince people to change their minds."
Final results, including the vote count from single-mandate constituencies as well as the exact number of seats won by each party, are expected in the coming days. A run-off vote is to take place in at least one district.