November 8, 2006 in Nation/World

Tajik president declared winner in criticized vote

Mike Eckel Associated Press
 

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan – Tajikistan’s authoritarian president won a new seven-year term in an election that foreign observers say lacked any genuine competition, according to a count of 91 percent of the vote officially announced Tuesday.

Victory had been widely expected for 54-year-old Emomali Rakhmonov, who has been in power since 1992 and led this impoverished Central Asian nation during a civil war in the 1990s.

Concerns have been growing over the repression of independent media and political dissent in the ex-Soviet republic, which has supported U.S. military operations in neighboring Afghanistan.

“This vote was illegitimate and a clear violation of electoral law,” said Rakhmadturo Zohirov, leader of the opposition Social-Democratic Party – one of three parties that refused to participate in an election they said could not be free or fair, citing official pressure on government opponents before the vote.

Central Elections Commission Chairman Merzoali Boltoiyev said Rakhmonov had 79.3 percent of the vote, based on a count of 91 percent of nearly 3.1 million ballots cast. Speaking on national television, he said the second-place candidate in Monday’s polling had won only 6.2 percent of the vote.

The four challengers were all relative unknowns; nearly all voters interviewed on and before election day said they knew virtually nothing about them.

Most voters also voiced strong support for Rakhmonov. They praised him for bringing stability to the mountainous Muslim nation after a civil war that pitted Islamic forces against the Moscow-backed government, killed more than 30,000 people and displaced nearly 1 million.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Monday’s vote showed “some improvement” over the 1999 election – in which Rakhmonov won more than 96 percent of the vote.

But the trans-Atlantic security and rights organization also found that there had been an “invisible campaign” leading up to the election, widespread self-censorship by many media and proxy and family voting that suggested people had cast multiple ballots. The group said there were doubts about how independent election authorities were, and how difficult it was to qualify as a candidate.

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