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Tajikistan Votes in “Imitation” of Presidential Elections

President Emomali Rahmon casting his vote today. Photo by president's press service, part of public domain.

President Emomali Rahmon casting his vote today. Photo by president's press service, part of public domain.

Tajikistanis went to the polls today (November 6) to cast their votes in the presidential elections. Although the process is still formally called “elections”, what is happening in the country is better understood as a procedure designed to extend the two-decade-long presidency of the incumbent, Emomali Rahmon, for another seven years.

Kirguzbek Kanunov wrote [ru] on Facebook today:

Я долго думал, как правильно назвать сегодняшнее политическое мероприятие и, по-моему подобрал более подходящее название. Выборами это назвать нельзя, по той простой причине, что выбирать не из чего. Назначением тоже это не назовешь, так как у <…>  народа, нет таких полномочий, и уж тем более в Таджикистане…

…Тогда давайте называть вещи своими именами. У нас не выборы, а очередной ритуальный обряд по утверждению президента Рахмона…

I have been thinking about how to best describe today's political event. I think I have come up with an accurate categorization. This cannot be called an election for the simple reason that we do not have [a pool of real candidates] to elect from. We cannot also call this an appointment, because <…> people do not have the power to do so [appoint a president], particularly in Tajikistan. 

…Let us then call a spade a spade. What we have is not an election, bur rather another ceremony to validate Rahmon's presidency…

Rahmon vs. five unknowns

The main reason why there was not even a modicum of suspense or intrigue in today's elections is that the voters had to choose between the president who had been in office since 1993 and five virtual unknowns. Over the last three weeks, Jasur Ashurov was asking his Twitter account followers and the participants in the largest Tajikistani groups on Facebook whether they knew of candidates running for president. What he has found out is that most voters in Tajikistan did not really know any candidate other than Rahmon. On October 30, he concluded [ru]:

the main conclusion is that the majority of voters next week will be surprised when they see the ballot papers. https://t.co/Env3W1WKMm

but it will not be difficult for them to make a choice because there will be one candidate that everyone knows [the incumbent president]. https://t.co/Env3W1WKMm

Cartoon depicting a voter standing near a ballot box with a ballot apper in his hand, and wondering: "OK, I know Rahmon. Who are these other people?". Image posted on Twitter by Digital Tajikistan.

Cartoon depicting a voter standing near a ballot box with a ballot paper in his hand, and wondering: “OK, I know Rahmon. Who are these other people?”. Image posted on Twitter by Digital Tajikistan.

This image shows a made-up ballot paper with the names of the six candidates. A voter leaves comments next to each candidate's name. The comments show that the voter has not heard of a single candidate except Emomali Rahmon. Image posted on Twitter by Digital Tajikistan.

This image shows a made-up ballot paper with the names of the six candidates. A voter leaves comments next to each candidate's name. The comments show that the voter has not heard of a single candidate except Emomali Rahmon. Image posted on Twitter by Digital Tajikistan.

Mainstream media has also arrived at a similar conclusion after interviewing people in Dushanbe. On the videos below, journalists talk to people in the streets of Dushanbe, asking them if they could name the presidential candidates or if they saw candidates’ campaign materials. The majority of people could name only one candidate, president Emomali Rahmon. The videos are in Tajik and Russian, with English subtitles:



As Tajikistan Monitor suggests, the authorities have been busy over the last several months, making sure that voters in the country know that the incumbent president is the candidate everyone should vote for. Other candidates’ campaigns were so low-profile that they looked more like an imitation of campaign activity. Candidates toured selected regions of the country, meeting with small groups of voters. Tomiris shows [ru] how a typical “meeting with voters” looked like:

@jashurov Funny. I went to a meeting with representatives of presidential candidates today. They made teachers to attend the event and read out speeches.

@jashurov This was a performance. Everyone was sleepy, including the representatives. And everyone, including the representatives of other candidates, praised Rahmon, 

Jasur Ashurov responds [ru] to this observation:

@tomiristj This confirms my conviction that there will be no real elections. There will be an imitation of elections instead.

Therefore, the overwhelming majority of voters that came to the polling stations today had only known of one candidate running for president, the country's incumbent leaders. Tajikistan Monitor explains why in this situation Tajikistanis voted for the only candidate whose name they recognized on the ballot paper:

When I run out of beer, I go to the nearest beer shop to buy more. If I arrive at the shop and find that there is only one beer I know of (let it be Carlsberg lager) and five other brands I have never heard of, it is most likely that I will end up stocking up on Carlsberg. I might choose to try a different beer on a different occasion, but I will most probably want to stick to the familiar stuff if I am buying supplies for the next seven years. President Rahmon will win the elections because he is that familiar Carlsberg lager in a shop full of exotic and unknown beer brands.

Outcome foretold

Although the authorities have been working hard to imitate genuine elections, social media users noticed that Tajikistan's government knew in advance who would lead the country during the next seven years. While the outcome of the vote has not been formally announced yet, the incumbent president's office has already put together his meeting and travel agenda for part of the next year.

The elections do not happen until tomorrow? This is strange, because we are already printing invitations for a huge event in which [Emomali Rahmon's] will participate in January 2014.

@mr_parvizon I was in [Gornaya] Matcha district. People there are actively preparing for Rahmon's visit in spring. They are building facilities he would open and stock up on his portraits.

Some netizens suggest that even outside the country, there is little doubt about the outcome of the vote. Dastan Bekeshev tweeted [ru] yesterday:

It is likely that many countries have already drafted letters congratulating Emomali Rahmon.

Violations

Although the incumbent president is assured of an easy victory, the ballot was marred by widespread violations. Radio Ozodi shows [tj] several videos documenting the routine use of multuple voting, perhaps the most common violation of the election law in the country. Another video shows (at 0:39) an older man voting for several people:

Twitter discussion also confirms that multiple voting has been a recurrent problem.

Besides, the authorities have not taken down some of the tens of thousands of Emomali Rahmon's portraits, although the law suggests that all campaigning should end 24 hours before the voting. 

Turnout 

According to the official reports [ru], more than 80% of registered voters cast their votes by 18:00 pm Dushanbe time, about two hours before the closure of polling stations. On Twitter, some users have ridiculed turnout reports:

Over 80% already? They should be more careful, otherwise with that pace they can easily reach 200%. http://t.co/jvIbh0Z9sJ

Young people crowding to cast their votes in today's presidential poll in Dushanbe. Image by Aaron Huff, used with permission.

Young people crowding to cast their votes in today's presidential poll in Dushanbe. Image by Aaron Huff, used with permission.

People carrying national flags on the election day in Dushanbe. Image by Aaron Huff, used with permission.

People carrying national flags on the election day in Dushanbe. Image by Aaron Huff, used with permission.

After the elections

Few people expect much change in Tajikistan after today's elections. Mardikor writes [tj] on Twitter:

So, another election is over. Has anything changed? No. We have another seven years of playing democracy ahead.

Bachai Sako is more optimistic [ru], however:

Everything is going to be fine. We have lived with him [Emomali Rahmon] for 20 years, so we will make another seven years with him. One day there will be light at he end of the tunnel.

Tajikistan Monitor blog is run by the author of this story.

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