Emomali Rahmon has ruled Tajikistan since 1992. PHOTO: Kremlin.ru

Emomali Rahmon has ruled Tajikistan since 1992. PHOTO: Kremlin.ru

Election Tajikistan’s Fake Election

Unsurprisingly, the ruling People’s Democratic Party, won Tajikistan’s parliamentary elections on March 1, 2020. The election campaign was a muted affair. No previous Tajik election has been judged free and fair by legitimate international observers. The Central Election Commission stated that the elections were open and transparent, and reported that it received no reports of violations. But independent observers reported a slew of violations, including ballot stuffing and proxy voting.

Published on balticworlds.com on April 7, 2020

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Unsurprisingly, the ruling People’s Democratic Party, won Tajikistan’s parliamentary elections on March 1, 2020. According to the Central Election Commission, the party won 50.4 percent of votes, securing 47 seats in the 63-seat Majlisi Namoyandagon, the country’s lower chamber. Officials claimed that four million votes were cast, 86 percent of the electorate.[i] Candidates from five pro-government parties- the Agrarian Party, Democratic Party, Communist Party, Economic Reforms Party, and Socialist Party – won the remaining seats. The country’s only independent opposition party, the Social Democratic Party, failed to win a seat, officially receiving just 0.3 percent of the vote. This was the country’s first election since the banning of the country’s leading opposition party, the Islamic Renaissance Party, in 2015. Tajikistan increasingly resembles a one-party state. Although five opposition parties hold seats in the lower chamber of parliament, none poses a viable challenge to the ruling People’s Democratic Party and its leader president Emomali Rahmon.

Prelude: Tajikistan’s Authoritarian Consolidation

Emomali Rahmon has ruled Tajikistan since 1992. Rahmon is now the former Soviet Union’s longest serving sitting president. Elected by deputies to head the Supreme Soviet at the height of the country’s post-independence civil war in November 1992, he has outmanoeuvred his rivals and gradually consolidated his rule.

He was first elected president in 1994, winning re-election in flawed elections in 1999, 2006 and 2013.  Rahmon has increasingly cultivated a cult of personality, positioning himself as the father of the nation and the sole person who shepherded the country out of war. Since 2015, he has been officially given the verbose title “The Founder of Peace and National Unity, the Leader of the Nation, President of the Republic of Tajikistan, His Excellency Emomali Rahmon.” Constitutional amendments adopted in 2016 abolish term limits for Rahmon, who no longer needs to follow Article 65 of the constitution, which stipulates that the same person cannot be president for more than two consecutive terms. The changes also made the president immune from prosecution. Loyal citizens, the government argues, should support the newly anointed “leader of the nation” president Rahmon.

Tajikistan’s rubber stamp parliament has been dominated by the People’s Democratic Party since Rahmon became its head in 1998. In the first election after the establishment of a bicameral parliament in 2000, the party won 57% of the seats. Until 2015, the Islamic Renaissance Party, which fought with the opposition during the civil war, held two seats in parliament. This was a symbol of the government’s deference to the 1997 Peace Accord which brought the conflict to an end. Under the leadership of Muhiddin Kabiri, who took over from founding leader Said Abdullo Nuri when he died in 2006, the party focused on issues of social justice, and the gradual Islamisation of the country. Although the party did criticise government policies, it did so cautiously.

The regime had long sought to silence the IRPT. According to Secret Protocol No. 32-20 of November 24, 2011, which was developed at a meeting between Rahmon and senior ministers, the government planned to marginalize, discredit and eventually ban the party.[ii] The previous year, the IRPT by its own calculations had won the parliamentary election. At its height, the party claimed to have over 50,000 members.[iii] Gradually, the government acted on Secret Protocol No. 32-20. The police arrested local deputies, accused party members of sexual impropriety and links to Islamic extremism. Half of the estimated 1,000 Tajik citizens who joined Islamic State, one official claimed, were members of the IRPT. These moves formed an attempt to discredit the party, linking it to violence and setting it in conflict against “peaceful” national culture.

The situation for the IRPT rapidly deteriorated in 2015. In the March parliamentary elections, the party lost its two seats in the Majlisi Namoyandagon. OSCE observers concluded that the elections “took place in a restricted political space and failed to provide a level playing field for candidates […]. While election day was peaceful, significant shortcomings were noted, including multiple voting and ballot box stuffing. The disregard of counting procedures meant that an honest count could not be guaranteed.”[iv] In June, the state newspaper Jumhuriyat accused Kabiri of illegally buying property. Kabiri, who was then outside the country, became effectively exiled. At the same time, party deputies began publically resigning from the IRPT en-masse. Party deputy from Sughd region Ilhomjon Yakubov has alleged that he only resigned after the security services tortured him. On August 28, the Ministry of Justice cited a lack of popular support as grounds to ban the party. Finally, the government blamed the party for instigating a coup attempt lead by Deputy Minister of Defence Abulhalim Nazarzoda on September 4. The security services swiftly arrested up to 200 members of the party, including the party’s spokesman and deputy chairman. On September 29, the Supreme Court declared the IRPT to be a “terrorist” organisation. This gave the government reason to continue arresting party members, detain lawyers who were brave enough to defend them. The 2016 constitutional amendments prohibited the formation of faith-based parties, effectively preventing the IRPT from re-forming. Those attempting to form new parties have also been arrested. When former Minister of Industry Zaid Saidov attempted to form a new party called New Tajikistan in 2013, he was swiftly arrested and jailed for 51 years.[v]

The Election Muted “Campaign”

The election campaign was a muted affair. Tajikistan has a mixed election system. Forty-one members are elected in single-member constituencies using the two-round system. The remaining 22 seats are elected by proportional representation in a single nationwide constituency, with an electoral threshold of 5%.  A total of 241 candidates contested the elections, 65 for the 22 party-list seats and 176 for the 41 constituency seats. All candidates are required to pay an electoral deposit, which was a barrier to participation for opposition parties lacking financial reserves. In addition, independent candidates must additionally collect 500 supporting signatures.

While the law allocates political parties television slots, there were no televised debates. The authorities maintain a monopoly over the media sector. Some candidates did hold meetings with constituents. Few voters expressed awareness of different parties or enthusiasm for the election. Rakhmatullo Zoirov, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, said while he did not believe that the elections offered a genuine choice for the people, his party was participating “for the sake of presenting his program” and “strengthening the will of voters.”[vi]

Election Day: Violations Abound

While the Central Electoral Commission claimed 86% turnout at 3,412 polling stations across the country and 39 abroad, this is difficult to believe. One quarter of the electorate work as migrant labourers in Russia, where they had just five polling stations to cast their ballot.[vii] Prague-based Tajik independent media outlet Akhbor reported that sources within the Tajik government reported the true turnout at 1.4 million, below the 30% turnout threshold for the vote to be declared valid.[viii]

No previous Tajik election has been judged free and fair by legitimate international observers. The Central Election Commission stated that the elections were open and transparent, and reported that it received no reports of violations.[ix] The state media celebrated the result as a “sign of deep solidarity of the glorious Tajik people.”[x] The vote according to Rustam Haydarov, deputy director of the Institute of Philosophy, Political Science and Law at the Academy of Science, “embodies the ideas of freedom and democracy.”[xi]

But independent observers reported a slew of violations, including ballot stuffing and proxy voting.  A journalist from the independent news agency Asia Plus went to a Dushanbe managed to return 12 ballots for his family of three.[xii] Journalist Abdumalik Kodirov visited a polling station 15 minutes before the closing, reporting that only a quarter of the names on the voting list were marked as having voted. Leader of the Social Democratic Party, which did not secure any seats, refused to recognise the results, stating they were “fabricated.”[xiii] Observers from his party at polling stations estimated that the Social Democrats had won at least 20% of the vote.[xiv]

Some 236 election observers from the CIS Executive Committee, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Commonwealth of Independent States Inter-parliamentary Assembly, Collective Security Treaty Organization Inter-parliamentary Assembly and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights observed the elections.

In 2015, the OSCE sent an Election Observation Mission (EOM), with 180 observers. But in the latest elections, the OSCE did not deem the elections competitive enough to send a full mission, instead sending a seven-person Election Assessment Mission (EAM). Justifying the decision, the OSCE noted the lack progress in bringing the legal framework of elections in line with OSCE commitments and international standards for holding democratic elections.[xv] In particular, it identifies the absence of media and the possibility of opposition. The mission did not carry out systematic or comprehensive observation of the voting, counting and tabulation on election day.

In recent years, observers from the OSCE have often been outnumbered by observers from non-Western regional organizations with no commitment to democracy, such as the Commonwealth of Independent States and Shanghai Cooperation Organization. These “zombie election” monitors, as Alex Cooley names them, who “try to look like democratic observers, but serve autocratic purposes by pretending that clearly flawed elections deserve clean bills of health.”[xvi] Such observers distract attention from more critical observers and serve to legitimise election results. As expected, the different observers came to different conclusions, with the teams from the Russian-led organisations recognising the results and those from the OSCE. As the table below shows, this fits with the pattern observed in numerous recent elections, including the parliamentary elections in 2015 and 2020, the presidential election in 2013, and the referendum on amendments to the constitution in 2016:



Conclusions about Presidential Elections
2013 2020
ODHIR (OSCE) “A lack of genuine choice and meaningful pluralism.” Not held yet
CIS “Was consistent with the generally accepted democratic principles of organizing and conducting free and fair elections” Not held yet
SCO ”Was held in accordance with the legislation of the Republic of Tajikistan and international obligations adopted by Tajikistan, which allows them to be recognized as transparent, alternative and democratic.”


Not held yet



Conclusions about Parliamentary Elections
2015 2020
ODHIR (OSCE) “Took place in a restricted political space and failed to provide a level playing field for candidates” Not released
CIS “Was consistent with the national legislation, international obligations of the Republic of Tajikistan in the electoral sphere and generally accepted standards for democratic elections.” “Universally accepted principles for the conduct of democratic elections and have been held on a competitive basis and openly.”
SCO ”The mission assesses the elections as transparent and democratic.”


“The mission recognizes the past elections as transparent, reliable and democratic”



Conclusions about 2016 Referendum on Amending the Constitution
ODHIR (OSCE) Did not participate
CIS “Ensured the free expression of the will of citizens of the Republic of Tajikistan.”
SCO “Free, without any violations.”


As in previous elections, the state media only mentioned the positive evaluations of the CIS and SCO, using them to signify the legitimacy of the vote and its international recognition as valid.[xvii]

Looking Forward: Tajikistan’s Second Election in 2020

While the parliamentary elections were a forgone conclusion, the presidential election, scheduled for the Autumn of 2020, is not. Sixty-eight-year-old Rahmon may well run for his fifth term in office. He won the previous election in 2013 with 83.6% of the vote. Alternatively, he could allow his son Rustam Emomali to run for president. The 2016 constitutional amendments reduced the minimum age to run for presidency from 35 to 30 years, which could allow Rustam, who is 32 years old to run in 2020. Rustam has risen swiftly through the ranks of government thanks to his father. In 2017, he was appointed mayor of the capital city Dushanbe and elected to the upper house of parliament, the Majlisi Milli. After the March elections, he was re-elected by secret ballot among deputies to the 33-member house.[xviii]

On April 17, the upper house will meet to decide on roles within the parliament. There is speculation among experts that Rustam could replace the former Dushanbe mayor Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev as chairman. This would make him second in line to the presidency under the constitution. This could be the next step in Tajikistan’s hereditary succession and Rustam’s path to the presidency.


[i] “As Expected, Tajik Ruling Party Wins Parliamentary Elections, Opposition Shut Out,”

RFE/RL, 2 March 2020, https://www.rferl.org/a/as-expected-tajik-ruling-party-wins-parliamentary-elections-opposition-shut-out/30464274.html

[ii] In particular, the Protocol outlines methods and measures to persecute members of the opposition party, as well as abolishment of the opposition party through state institutions. First reported in Russian at http://www.zvezda.ru/geo/2012/03/01/rachmon.htm, last accessed on 2018.10.18.

[iii] Политэмигрант Мухиддин Кабири о войне в Таджикистане и ее последствиях: https://www.currenttime.tv/a/tajikistan-civil-war-kabiri-rakhmon/30024238.html

[iv] “Tajikistan, Parliamentary Elections, 1 March 2015: Final Report,” OSCE, 15 March 2015, https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/tajikistan/158081

[v] Mavzuna Abdulloeva, “Гособвинитель потребовал для Зайда Саидова еще 25 лет заключения” Asia Plus, 9 July 2015, http://news.tj/ru/news/gosobvinitel-potreboval-dlya-zaida-saidova-eshche-25-let-zaklyucheniya.

[vi] “What to Expect from The Parliamentary Elections in Tajikistan?” CABAR Asia, 27 February 2020, https://cabar.asia/en/what-to-expect-from-the-parliamentary-elections-in-tajikistan/

[vii] “No Debate, No Competition, No Surprises: It’s A Tajik Election,” RFE/RL, 28 February 2020, https://www.rferl.org/a/no-debate-no-competition-no-surprises–its-a-tajik-election/30460217.html

[viii] “Сенсационные Предварительные Итоги Выборов В Таджикистане: У Правящей НДПТ – 56,18%, У СДПТ – 29,5%, У Коммунистов – 6,5%,” Akhbor, 2 March 2020, https://akhbor-rus.com/-p3853-178.htm

[ix] “ЦИК Таджикистана: Никаких жалоб и обращений не поступало, нарушений нет,” Asia Plus, 2 March 2020, https://asiaplustj.info/ru/news/tajikistan/politics/20200302/vibori-v-tadzhikistane-sostoyalis-predvaritelnie-rezultati-obyavyat-segodnya-vo-vtoroi-polovine-dnya

[x] “Интихобот Ва Ҷилои Арзишҳои Демократӣ Дар Кишвари Озод,” Jumhuriyat, 2 March 2020, https://jumhuriyat.tj/index.php?art_id=39953

[xi] “Интихобот 2020: оғози марҳилаи сифатан нав дар рушди Тоҷикистон,” Khovar, 7 March 2020, http://khovar.tj/2020/03/intihobot-2020-o-ozi-mar-ilai-sifatan-nav-dar-rushdi-to-ikiston/

[xii] “Выборы в Таджикистане: “можешь проголосовать за всю свою семью” Asia Plus, 1 March 2020, https://www.asiaplustj.info/ru/news/tajikistan/society/20200301/vibori-v-tadzhikistane-mozhesh-progolosovat-za-vsyu-svoyu-semyu

[xiii] “”Все было ожидаемо”. Неоднозначная реакция на результаты выборов в Таджикистане,” Radio Ozodi, 4 March 2020,  https://rus.ozodi.org/a/30467979.html

[xiv] “Зойиров: СДПТ Не Признает Результаты Выборов, Эти Результаты – Политическое И Сфабрикованное Решение,” Akhbor, 2 March 2020, https://akhbor-rus.com/-p3861-178.htm

[xv] “ОБСЕ направит наблюдателей на выборы в Таджикистан, но с оговоркой,” Radio Ozodi, 17 January 2020, https://rus.ozodi.org/a/30383077.html

[xvi] Alexander Cooley, “Countering Democratic Norms,” Journal of Democracy, Vol. 26, No. 3 (2015): 55.

[xvii] “Интихобот Ва Ҷилои Арзишҳои Демократӣ Дар Кишвари Озод,” Jumhuriyat, 2 March 2020, https://jumhuriyat.tj/index.php?art_id=39953

[xviii] “Кто Стал Членом “Парламента Топ-Чиновников”? Список 25 Избранных Членов Маджлиси Милли – Поименно,” Akhbor, 28 March 2020, https://akhbor-rus.com/-p4054-178.htm

  • by Edward Lemon and Oleg Antonov

    Edward Lemon is DMGS-Kennan Institute Fellow at the Daniel Morgan Graduate School in Washington D.C. and a Global Fellow at the Wilson Center. Oleg Antonov is a visiting researcher at the Centre for Baltic and East European Studies (CBEES), Södertörn University.

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