Sovereign Analysis / Tajikistan

Tajikistan: Preview of Sunday's presidential election

  • President Emomali Rahmon is expected to win a fifth term in Sunday's election by a big margin
  • Similarities with Belarus are obvious – a long-time ruler, no effective opposition, lack of free and fair elections
  • But there are differences, and the West's response will depend on what happens on the ground
Tajikistan: Preview of Sunday's presidential election

Tajikistan holds its presidential election on Sunday 11 October, a date that was confirmed by its parliament on 6 August. Current President Emomali Rahmon is, no surprise, expected to win – his candidacy was confirmed on 14 September amid previous rumours that, at some point, he may step aside in favour of his son, Rustam. Rahmon has been president since 1992, and is one of the world’s longest-serving leaders. The last election was in 2013, in which he won his fourth term with 83.9% of the vote.

To some extent, the election is unremarkable and could be a repeat of the past. Rahmon will more than likely gain a fifth term, the only question being how wide the margin he is given. Tajikistan's elections have been criticised in the past for not being free and fair, although to little avail. Why should this time be any different?

But the similarities with Belarus are obvious – a long-time ruler, no effective opposition (opposition leaders and their parties in Tajikistan have mainly either been banned, imprisoned or fled into exile) and a lack of free and fair elections. Could what happened in Belarus in August happen in Tajikistan? Despite the similarities, we think there are two key differences.

First, the lack of a clear, effective and unified opposition, which may make it difficult to mobilise anti-government sentiment to contest the result on the ground (assuming that's what the public want to do) and build pressure in the international arena against the incumbent (that said, we didn't really know such opposition existed in Belarus either until after its election, although there was perhaps greater recognition that it had been building). While four other candidates, all men, are registered, this has been criticised as simply a facade to add credibility to the election.

Second, another key difference is geography. Belarus is on the EU's doorstep, where the West may have more influence.

Does Belarus change things? After Belarus, is the West's intolerance of rigged or stolen elections wherever they are higher and, if so, what will or can it do? Or is it business as usual? As we saw in Belarus, the West's response in Tajikistan will very much depend on what happens on the ground.

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