DUSHANBE -- Tajikistan's authoritarian President Emomali Rahmon has been reelected for a fifth term with nearly 91 percent of the vote, according to preliminary official results, following a tightly controlled and largely ceremonial election.
The Central Asian nation's Central Election Commission said on October 12 that 90.92 percent of voters had cast their ballot for Rahmon, the only post-Soviet autocrat in power longer than Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus.
CEC chairman Bakhtiyor Khudoyorzoda said that 85.4 percent of the electorate had cast their ballots in the October 11 polls, during which RFE/RL’s Tajik Service reported several instances of irregularities. European Council spokesman Peter Stano said in a statement that the election was apparently carried out in a “peaceful and orderly manner,” but he noted that several of the recommendations made earlier this year by monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE ODIHR) “remain valid and unimplemented, such as the independence of the media environment and political plurality.”
In power since 1992, Rahmon has won four consecutive presidential elections, none of which was deemed free or fair by Western monitors. He holds the dubious distinction of being the only post-Soviet autocrat in power longer than Belarus's Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
The election comes as Tajikistan’s economic woes deepen amid the COVID-19 pandemic as hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are unable to travel to Russia for jobs not available at home, halting a flow of remittances needed to prop up the local economy.
The 68-year-old Rahmon was running against four little-known candidates that represent pro-government parties in the country's rubber-stamp parliament. They are widely seen as little more than a facade to give the vote the appearance of competition.
According to the preliminary results, Rustam Latifzoda from the Agrarian Party received 3.03 percent of the vote; Rustam Rahmatzoda from the Party of Economic Reforms got 2.15 percent; Miroj Abdulloev from the Communist Party received 1.17 percent; and Abduhalim Ghafforzoda from the Socialist Party got 1.49 percent.
CEC officials said that the final results will be officially announced within a week.
On election day, RFE/RL video appeared to show two men stuffing ballots into voting urns at a polling station in the capital, Dushanbe.
A correspondent in the northern city of Khujand spoke to two voters who openly said that they had cast more than one ballot. Both women claimed to have voted on behalf of other family members, a practice that is unlawful in Tajikistan.
The election was the first since Rahmon's most influential political rival, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), was outlawed.
The country's Supreme Court banned the IRPT as a "terrorist" organization in 2015. Many of the party leaders and officials have been imprisoned, while others fled the country amid a clampdown. The Social Democratic Party, the only genuine political opposition group inside the country, boycotted the election.
'No Point In Voting'
Party leader Rahmatullo Zoirov told RFE/RL that there was no point in voting because "even if one votes against all the candidates, the CEC will pronounce its own numbers and results." With a suppressed opposition and Rahmon’s tight grip on the country, the vote is unlikely to result in the turmoil currently engulfing neighboring Kyrgyzstan and fellow former Soviet republic Belarus after disputed elections in those countries. Rakhmon is portrayed by state media and his supporters as a figure who has brought stability to the country following a civil war during the 1990s.
Rahmon’s nomination in late August ended speculation that he may step aside to allow his eldest son, Rustam Emomali, to run for office.
In April, Emomali, 32, was made the speaker of the upper house of parliament, a role that positions him to take over for his father if he is unable to fulfill his duties. Emomali also continues to hold the lucrative position of Dushanbe mayor.
Speculation about Emomali’s succession initially began in 2016, when Tajikistan amended its constitution to lower the age threshold for presidential candidates from 35 years to 30 years.
The move was seen as being aimed at paving the way for Emomali to run for president. The amendments also gave Rahmon the exclusive right to run for office an unlimited number of times.
Further securing his dominant position in the country, parliament gave Rahmon the title of Leader of the Nation in December 2015, a status that grants him lifelong immunity from prosecution.
The October 11 vote marks the second nationwide vote in Tajikistan this year.
In March, the country held parliamentary polls that produced another rubber-stamp legislature dominated by Rahmon's People’s Democratic Party.