Tajikistan set to elect parliament loyal to strongman leader

DUSHANBE (Reuters) - Tajikistan voted in a parliamentary election on Sunday that is set to produce another legislature loyal to President Imomali Rakhmon who has run the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation for a quarter of a century.

FILE PHOTO: Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon arrives for a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) heads of state in Minsk, Belarus November 30, 2017. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko/File Photo

Of the seven parties contesting the 63 lower house seats, only one - the Social Democrats - has openly criticized the 67-year-old leader who wields sweeping powers in the Persian-speaking Muslim country of nine million.

Another opposition group, the Islamic Renaissance Party, was outlawed shortly after the 2015 election - in which it failed to win any seats - as the authorities accused it of being behind a failed coup attempt.

The People’s Democratic Party led by Rakhmon dominates the parliament which plans in the near future to move into a new building gifted by China, the main investor in Tajikistan’s economy.

Bakhriyor Khudoyorzoda, the head of the Central Election Commission, said that by 15:00 local time (0900 GMT) 75.1% of voters had cast their ballots, ensuring the validity of the election. Preliminary results of the vote are due on Monday.

No large-scale polls indicating voter preferences were conducted before the vote, but few observers expect any change to the political status quo.

“The level of respect of fundamental freedoms has further deteriorated since the last elections and the choice between political alternatives is limited in the absence of independent media and a functioning opposition,” the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said in a report last month.

None of several voters questioned by Reuters agreed to say who they had voted for, although most said they believed their choice would make a difference. Some were more cynical though.

“I don’t consider it necessary to vote because everything has already been decided without me,” said Faridun Umarov, a 38-year-old Dushanbe resident.

The parliamentary election also appears to shed little light on Rakhmon’s plans with regards to a presidential election this autumn when his seven-year term expires. The president has not said whether he plans to run again.

Neither of Rakhmon’s two eldest children, who are already prominent public figures, is running in the election. His elder son, Rustam Imomali, is mayor of the capital Dushanbe and is eligible to run for the presidency. His daughter, Ozoda Rakhmon, serves both as presidential chief of staff and senator.

Reporting by Nazarali Pirnazarov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Mark Potter