The governing People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan is cruising to victory in the country's parliamentary election with almost 72 percent of the vote, according to a preliminary tally. Western election monitors, however, expressed disappointment with the conduct of the polling, saying that fraud boosted the governing party's winning margin.
The PDPT did not face a strong test from opposition parties in the February 28 election, in which all 63 seats in the lower house of parliament were up for grabs. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Even so, the election was marred by irregularities, prompting opposition parties to call for an investigation.
In the weeks leading up to the vote, public interest in the elections seemed tepid. But authorities claimed 85 percent of the country's 3.5 million registered voters turned out to cast ballots.
A preliminary report issued March 1 by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) contained a dose of disapproval. "Despite certain positive steps, Tajikistan's parliamentary elections failed to meet many key OSCE commitments," the statement said.
Pia Christmas-Moller -- special coordinator of the OSCE short-term observers, and vice-president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly -- said she was "disappointed that these elections failed on many democratic standards." In 2008, Christmas-Moller participated in an OSCE observation mission that monitored the conduct of the US presidential election, won by Barack Obama.
"Such serious irregularities weaken genuine democratic progress, Christmas-Moller added during a March 1 news conference, referring to the Tajik vote. "There is still a long way to go, and hopefully the new parliament will take up this challenge."
The US Embassy in Dushanbe also criticized the electoral process, noting that "the vote was beset by procedural irregularities and fraud, including cases of ballot stuffing."
Representatives of the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), which holds two seats in the outgoing parliament, and which had hoped to form a larger block in the next legislature, say they will protest the results of the February 28 voting.
"Even in conditions of tough competition with the ruling party, our party hopes to get seven or eight seats in the new parliament," party Chairman Muhiddin Kabiri told the ITAR-TASS news agency on March 1. "Otherwise, we will file a lawsuit in court within the law to defend each vote given to [our] party," he added.
Rakhmatillo Zoirov, chairman of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDPT), which currently does not hold any seats in parliament, echoed Kabiri's criticism.
There "are violations involving ballot papers which were marked in advance of vote counting. Reports about all violations registered by our party's observers will be prepared and given to the relevant bodies in the near future," he told Asia Plus on March 1.
Prior to the vote, at a two-day briefing held February 26-27 and organized by the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), opposition leaders expressed concerns over campaign violations.
Leaders of several opposition parties complained that PDPT loyalists dominate membership in district elections commissions. These purportedly independent bodies are charged with overseeing a fair vote. The US Embassy, in its post-elections assessment, described "cases of bias by local election officials in favor of the ruling People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan." Other international observers suggested that the members of the Central Commission for Elections and Referendums (CCER) unfairly supported the PDPT.
"All executive officials in every administrative unit countrywide are appointed personally by the president [who is also the PDPT chairman]; and, virtually all of them are members of PDPT," said IRPT leader Kabiri. "It gives them opportunities to interfere and breed impediments."
Kabiri noted that his party's activists faced continuous harassment during the campaign. He added that he personally had to work to secure the release of four young men on February 25, members of IRPT arrested by municipal policemen in Dushanbe simply for wearing blue scarves, a new symbol of the party.
During the pre-election campaign, free-speech advocates complained about numerous press freedom violations. In early 2010, three senior judges filed lawsuits against five private Tajik newspapers demanding exorbitant financial compensation for the "defamation" of their "dignity and professional honor." [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Such cases were designed to quiet the fledgling independent press during the parliamentary campaign, said Nuriddin Karshibaev, chairman of the Tajik National Association of Independent Media (NANSMIT). "The court hearings are postponed until the elections are fully over, but the fact of persecution of the private media seriously spoils Tajikistan's adherence to the principles of democracy," Karshibaev told EurasiaNet.
Konstantin Parshin is a freelance journalist based in Dushanbe.