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Tajikistan: The Elections Boycott That Wasn't

After the only genuine opposition candidate pulled out of the presidential race in Tajikistan, the outcome of the November 6 polls was foretold. Out of the six candidates whose names were put on the ballot papers, one was the incumbent leader ruling the country for 20 years, while the other five individuals were virtual nobodies. In the absence of a real choice, the country's main opposition groups chose to boycott the polls and called on their supporters to stay at home on the election day.

Boycott on Platforma

Many social media users have also said they would boycott the vote. Platforma, the largest Facebook group for the discussion of politics in Tajikistan, took the lead in popularizing the idea of a boycott among its participants. One day before the polls, the group even replaced its cover photo with the one reading, “Boycott. Nobody to Choose From”.

Platforma cover page since November 5.. "Boycott. Nobody to Choose From".

Platforma cover page since November 5. “Boycott. Nobody to Choose From”.

One of the group's moderators also wrote [ru]:

Как настроение, друзья? Столько я ждал этот день – 6 ноября 2013 года, и вот он наступил, а теперь и не знаю зачем я его ждал. Такое разочарование… Ежу понятно кто будет “победителем” этих “прозрачных и демократических” выборов. Понятно, что ваш голос украдут вне зависимости от того, пойдете вы завтра на голосование или не пойдете. И все же, чтобы у вас была чистая совесть, прежде всего, перед самим собой не ходите завтра на голосование. Просто останьтесь дома, синоптики обещали дождь, сидите в тепле и смотрите ТВ…  Это не конец. Не расстраивайтесь. Все будет хорошо.

How is your mood, friends? I was long waiting for this day, 6 November 2013, and now when the day has come, I don't know why I was waiting for it. Such a disappointment… We all understand who will be the “winner” or these “transparent and democratic” elections. It is clear that your vote will be stolen whether you go to the polling station tomorrow or not. Still, in order to keep a clean conscience, do not go to the polls tomorrow. Stay home, particularly because the weather forecast suggests it will rain; stay at your warm place and watch TV… This is not the end. Don't be disappointed. Everything will be fine.

Many memes urging Tajikistanis to boycott the vote have been posted on Facebook over the last two months. 

"Are you electing a slave owner for yourself? No elections. Only the boycott! Image spread anonymously on "Platforma".

“Are you electing a slave owner for yourself? No elections. Only the boycott! Image circulated anonymously on Platforma.

"Hey, Tajik! Don't forget that you are a human being! Do not go to vote for a wolf". Image circulated anonymously on "Platforma".

“Hey, Tajik! Don't forget that you are a human being! Do not go to vote for a wolf”. Image circulated anonymously on Platforma.

"Don't go! Don't vote! Don't believe! Don't wait! They will not make things better! Don't recognize!" Image circulated anonymously on "Platforma".

“Don't go! Don't vote! Don't believe! Don't wait! They will not make things better! Don't recognize!” Image circulated anonymously on Platforma.

This image shows the head of Tajikistan's election commission, saying "Stay home! We will fill in [your ballot paper] for you". Image circulated anonymously on Platforma.

This image shows the head of Tajikistan's election commission, saying “Stay home! We will fill in [your ballot paper] for you”. Image circulated anonymously on Platforma.

Almost identical posts and images were also circulated through the “Group-24″ page on the Russian-language social network Odnoklassniki. The page is run by the supporters of Umarali Quvvatov, the leader of the exiled opposition movement Group-24. Many journalists in Tajikistan believe that Facebook-based Platforma is run by the same people that administer the Odnoklassniki-based “Group 24″ page.

Beyond Platforma

Discussions of the boycott were much less frequent outside Platforma. On ASIA-Plus, an anonymous individual wrote a blog titled “Why I Am Going to Boycott the Elections” [ru]. The blog counters an argument made by Rahmon's campaign officials that the veteran leader's rule has ushered in an era of economic prosperity in Tajikistan. It suggests that economic stagnation, underdevelopment, and missed opportunities characterized Rahmon's 20-years-long presidency:

Единственной преградой к экономическому чуду Таджикистана является нынешняя система власти, и поэтому я не иду на эти выборы и призываю всех бойкотировать их ради процветания и достойной жизни следующего поколения!

The only obstacle standing in the way of Tajikistan's economic miracle is the current system of power. This is why I am not going to vote in these elections, and I am urging everyone else to boycott the elections for the sake of prosperity and dignified life of the next generation [of Tajikistanis].

On Twitter, too, some users said they were not casting their votes on November 6. For example, after Jasur Ashurov asked his followers whether they knew which candidates ran in the elections, Parviz Khamdamov responded [ru]:

i think there are six candidates. i know emomali rahmon and don't know anyone else. i will not vote in the elections. [why would i]?

The boycott was also heavily discussed in the comments sections of the most popular news websites covering political developments in Tajikistan.

Has boycott failed?

According to the official estimates [ru], almost 87% of eligible voters went to polling stations on November 6. This shows that the idea of boycotting the polls was not very popular with the voters. Obviously,there are major doubts about the reliability of official statistics:

The elections are over, with the turnout exceeding 80%. I find this hard to believe because so many people were going to boycott the polls http://t.co/r0h66pBYlp

On Platforma, Shokir Fayzulloev asked [ru] on the day of the elections:

Пока ЦИК не объявил результат, как думаете какую цифру назовут? Явка 93%, за Рахмона 75%, Коммунист 8%, Гаффоров 6%, еще двое по 4% один 2% и 1% против всех…. А реальные цифры сами знаете…

Before the [Central Elections Committee] announces the results, what numbers do you think they would give? Turnout 93%, 75% of votes for Rahmon, 8% for the Communist, 6% for Ghafforov, another two candidates will get 4% each, one candidate 2%, and 1% will be against all… And you all know what happens to the real results…

Only a handful of netizens have shared images of spoiled ballot papers (one of the tactics advocated by those calling for the boycott) on Facebook.

Ballot paper with the names of all six candidates crossed out.

Ballot paper with the names of all six candidates crossed out. The name of the person who shared this image on Facebook is withheld on his request.

Despite the possible faults of the official results, observers of the election agree that the majority of voters did go to the polling stations to cast their votes on November 6. Therefore, the boycott did not happen, and those netizens that stayed home or spoiled their ballot papers failed to influence the outcome of the polls. Perhaps the major reason why the boycott failed was that the idea was not very popular in the country. Even on the Facebook-based Platforma and its Odnoklassniki-based twin – the main spaces where the idea of the boycott was discussed – support for the “stay home” campaign was limited, most likely because netizens distrusted the motives of those who ran those groups.

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