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
On September 9, the Alliance of Reformist Forces of Tajikistan (ARFT) announced that its members will support a unified candidate during the presidential elections set for November 6, 2013. The Alliance includes the country’s two leading opposition parties, the Islamic Revival Party (IRPT) and Social-Democratic Party (SDPT), as well as a number of non-governmental organizations and prominent individuals. During the upcoming elections, these diverse political forces will rally behind Oynihol Bobonazarova, a 65-year old woman lawyer and human rights activist, not currently associated with any political party.
The announcement followed uneasy negotiations between the members of the ARFT over a candidate who would be acceptable to their very different constituencies. The IRPT is the largest opposition group in the country and perhaps the one closest resembling a genuine political party with strong social and ideological roots as well as a complex organizational structure. The group served as a leading force in the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) which fought against the government of incumbent President Emomali Rahmon during the 1992-1997 civil war. The IRPT’s main support bases are the traditionally more religious communities in the eastern Rasht Valley (Gharm) and the southwestern region of Qurghonteppa (Kurgan-Tube), although it has supporters throughout the country. The SDPT, in contrast, draws its support from among a much narrower group of urban-based intelligentsia united around the party’s leader, prominent lawyer and activist Rahmatillo Zoyirov.
The IRPT is by far the strongest political force in the Alliance, and the party’s leader, Muhiddin Kabiri, faced strong pressure from members and supporters to run for president. By agreeing to throw his support behind a female presidential candidate, who is neither a member of the IRPT nor known as a very pious person, Kabiri risked alienating many of his constituencies. In order to prevent this from happening and to legitimate Bobonazarova in the eyes of the party’s conservative and patriarchal membership, Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda, a prominent Islamic leader who had served as part of the IRPT’s senior leadership in the past, was made Bobonazarova’s proxy (doverennoye litso). Continue reading