Two weeks ago Tajikistan’s Central Elections and Referendum Commission (CERC) disqualified all three challengers to President Imomali Rahmonov from the presidential race, leaving Rahmonov to run unopposed to a guaranteed triumph on November 6 (see the Monitor, October 13). The CERC cited the three candidates’ failure to collect the 145,000 voters’ signatures required for the official registration of each candidacy. On October 21, however, the Supreme Court requested the CERC to review its decision regarding the principal challenger to Rahmonov–namely, Economics and Foreign Trade Minister Dovlat Usmon, the former chief of staff of the opposition’s military forces, who had been nominated by the Islamic Rebirth Party (IRP) to run for president on behalf of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO). And on October 22, the CERC officially registered Usmon’s candidacy without further ado. Yet this move is too little and too late to salvage the presidential election from an imminent fiasco.
The Supreme Court’s and the CERC’s decisions represented an opportunistic response to strong public intercession by the United States and more discrete demarches by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). It also represented a half-measure at best, in that the registration is still being denied to the other two presidential candidates from the opposition–namely, Sulton Kuvvatov of the Democratic Party and Saifiddin Turaev of the Justice Party. All three candidates had been prevented by the pro-Rahmonov local authorities from collecting enough voters’ signatures. Usmon’s candidacy was nevertheless registered with only 83,000 signatures. The Supreme Court instructed the CERC not to take a “formalistic approach” to the registration–a classic Soviet phrase denoting the state’s license to bend the law at will for political purposes.
Usmon is not playing along. He, the IRP and the UTO point out that the authorities want only the appearance of a contested election, not the reality of one. Usmon, moreover, refuses to bend the law and enter the race without having collected the required number of signatures. Usmon, his political supporters, the other two thwarted candidates and their parties insist on the calling of a special session of parliament that would, first, postpone the presidential balloting now scheduled for November 6; second, change the composition of the discredited CERC; and, third, allow the three candidates more time to collect the voters’ signatures, in a climate free of intimidation, and under effective international supervision.
The authorities are holding out, particularly after the Russian Foreign Ministry’s public statement demanding that Usmon drop his demands and run on November 6. Even if Rahmonov yields, it is far too late to avoid a single-candidate presidential election, which Rahmonov will win with the support of Moscow, the Tajik Communist Party, the Union of Slavic Associations, and of his own People’s Democratic Party, by a margin which will be impossible to check independently (Itar-Tass, Asia-Plus, Dushanbe Radio, October 21-24; see the Monitor, September 28, October 19).
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