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.
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.
'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.
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.
Party leader Rahmatillo 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.
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.