Pro-gov't party leads Tajik elections; fraud cited

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (AP) — Preliminary results show Tajikistan's pro-government party winning weekend parliamentary elections by a landslide, officials said Monday, as international monitors and the opposition cited widespread fraud.

The results — if confirmed by the final count in 10 days — would reinforce President Emomali Rakhmon's two-decade hold over the impoverished Central Asian country that serves as a supply route for international forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

The initial tally after all of Sunday's votes were counted showed the government-backed party with 71.7 percent and the main opposition Islamic Revival Party with just 7.7 percent, the Central Elections Commission said.

However, international monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said that while the vote was peaceful, it was marred by ballot-box stuffing and proxy voting. The Islamic Revival Party said it had evidence of forged ballot count reports.

"Such serious irregularities weaken genuine democratic progress," said Pia Christmas-Moeller, an OSCE delegation leader.

The early results showed the Communist Party, the only other party with seats in the current legislature, in third place with 7.2 percent, according to the election commission.

It did not give a breakdown for how many parliamentary seats each party would receive, but said two parties not represented in the current parliament would gain a seat each despite not exceeding the 5-percent threshold for party-list seats. In Tajikistan's 63-seat parliament, 41 seats are elected directly in separate races and 22 are allotted based on proportional party representation.

Islamic Revival Party leader Muhiddin Kabiri warned that, if his party's complaints were not quickly addressed, "we will take tough and decisive legal steps."

The opposition party said it had about 100 copies of blank vote count reports with faked signatures of local election commission members, which Kabiri said would have allowed for incorrect tallies to be submitted to the Central Election Commission.

"This behavior is unacceptable in a democratic society," he said, calling the vote "untransparent and undemocratic."

He said the OSCE should be more firm in its criticism, saying his party would study the organization's report but that "so far they have expressed themselves very diplomatically and said nothing concrete."

The OSCE said Tajikistan's laws may have led to unfairly balanced electoral commissions as well as a lack of fairness in voter registration, campaigning and election day procedures.

It also criticized the lack of TV news coverage of campaign activities, as state media focused instead on encouraging Tajik citizens to buy shares in the government's Roghun hydroelectric plant project. Tajikistan is hoping to generate enough energy for itself as well as for exports to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Challenging the vote results may be difficult, however, due to a lack of clarity in the appeals process.

Complaints to the election commission before the vote were dealt with behind closed doors without any formal decisions issued, undermining the right to court appeals, the OSCE said.

In a sharp contrast to the OSCE assessment, the head of Russia's own monitoring mission said the election was legitimate and held in full compliance with Tajik legislation. Russia, although an OSCE member, frequently complains that the organization is trying to impose Western standards on former Soviet states.