It is official now: most voters arriving at the polling stations tomorrow to vote in Tajikistan’s presidential elections will have no idea that they have options other than the incumbent president. Media have done a great job in debunking the illusion that there multiple candidates in this year’s elections.
ASIA-Plus has interviewed people in Dushanbe, asking them which candidates they know of. Is anyone really surprised that Emomali Rahmon is the only candidate everyone recalls? What one can find surprising, however, is that although most people interviewed did not know of other candidates, they were still going to vote on the election day.
I have no doubt that Emomali Rahmon will win the presidential elections on November 6. I am also confident that he will have an easy win. All social media buzz about Oynikhol Bobonazarova – and enthusiastic announcements made by other candidates – ignore one simple fact: most voters in Tajikistan are not aware of any other presidential candidate except Rahmon. This is not going to change during the six weeks remaining before the vote. Most voters will walk in the door at the polls on election day uninformed of their options beyond the incumbent president.
There are two main reasons for the lack of awareness about candidates or their platforms on the part of voters in Tajikistan. First, candidates running against Rahmon do not have the resources and time to make themselves known to voters. The key resource they cannot access is airtime on state-owned television. A recent OSCE/ODIHR Needs Assessment Mission (NAM] report [pdf] notes that, “Television is the predominant source of political information” (p. 6) in the country. My own experience (and I talked to hundreds of people about where they got public information in 2008-2011) shows that state television is frequently the only source of political information for the majority of people in Tajikistan. The only exception are the areas where people speak Uzbek, as the Tajik language programming offered by the state television is not accessible to them. Most Uzbek speakers watch Russian or Uzbek TV (where it is accessible). It is obvious that candidates challenging Rahmon will not have access to airtime on state television outside of the 45 minutes guaranteed by the law (which is not going to be prime-time). In contrast, Rahmon is always on television - and everywhere else in the country.
Of course the much more pluralistic print media and internet will provide some voters with all information they need about candidates. However, information from newspapers and online sources will be limited to voters living in major towns (mainly Dushanbe and Khujand), while more than 70 percent of the country’s population resides in rural areas. And even in Dushanbe, Khujand, and other towns, most people do not use internet (at least as a source of political information) and do not read newspapers. Continue reading