After Flawed Poll, Tajikistan’s President Dizzy with Victory
President Emomali Rahmon opened Tajikistan’s new parliament on March 17 with a rousing, self-congratulatory speech. International observers may have found the March 1 parliamentarian elections to be full of fraud, but Rahmon felt the vote had represented the highest form of democracy.
After some initial confusion about the results, the new parliament contains just two opposition members, both representing the Communist Party. The Islamic Renaissance Party lost its seats for the first time. All other representatives in the 63-seat legislature are loyal to Rahmon’s regime. That Tajikistan held a “well organized, transparent, free and democratic” vote, the long-serving strongman said, was a clear “victory” for his impoverished Central Asian country:
The political campaign was held in a free and democratic atmosphere; this was highly appreciated by the representatives of authoritative international organizations, national and international observers. The Tajik people took part in this event with a high sense of patriotism, firm confidence for a brighter future and with a deep awareness of civic responsibility.
To Rahmon, “authoritative” international organizations do not include independent observers, but only predictable members of missions like that of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a club of post-Soviet countries. CIS observers, as they always do, declared the election “free and fair.”
No Tajik election has ever been deemed free and fair by independent observers, however, and this was no exception. After the March 1 vote, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) concluded that “the elections were not administered in an impartial manner.” The vote “took place in a restricted political space and failed to provide a level playing field for candidates,” the OSCE observer mission said on March 2. The OSCE recorded ballot stuffing, multiple voting, and local officials influencing voters. It said half the counts it monitored should have been tossed out.
International condemnation did not deter Rahmon’s jubilation, however. He told parliament that the vote confirmed the excellent work his government is doing. “It should be stressed that the country has taken all necessary measures to improve the quality of life and social protection of the population,” Rahmon declared during his speech, a transcript of which was posted on his website.
Over one-third of Tajikistan’s population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank. In March, the International Monetary Fund predicted that remittances from Tajik migrants in Russia would fall as much as 30 percent this year as a result of the economic crisis there. Remittances total the equivalent of roughly half of Tajikistan’s GDP.
So despite Rahmon’s cheerful take on events, Tajikistan faces a tough 2015.