Veteran Tajik leader to seek new 7-year term in November 6 vote

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 09, 2013 6:50 AM

By Roman Kozhevnikov

DUSHANBE (Reuters) - Tajikistan's longtime President Imomali Rakhmon registered on Wednesday to run for a new seven-year term in a November 6 election that would extend his rule to nearly three decades.

The West has criticized his record on democracy, saying elections in Tajikistan fail to meet democratic standards. Rakhmon has overseen constitutional amendments which increased the length and number of terms he can serve as president.

He won a 2006 election with 79.3 percent of the vote. If he gets a new term, it will be his last under the constitution.

Tajikistan's opposition is weak and disparate, amid widespread apathy among voters in the Muslim nation of 8 million, which lies on a heroin trafficking route out of next-door Afghanistan and is the poorest of the post-Soviet nations.

Rakhmon, 61, once head of a Soviet cotton farm, is set to win outright in the first round. His potential rivals are little known in the impoverished Central Asian country he has run with a firm hand since 1992, backed by his People's Democratic Party.

"Our chairman gave his official written consent to take part in the election," Rakhmon's deputy in the party, Safar Safarov, told reporters at the central election commission.

The commission is expected to register five more candidates on Wednesday, all largely loyal to Rakhmon.

Oynihol Bobonazarova, a human rights activist and the sole opposition candidate, has until October 10 to gather a minimum of 210,000 signatures to enable her to run for president.

"Even if there are no violations during the presidential election, the single opposition candidate has very thin chances to pose any serious challenge to Rakhmon, let alone win the presidency," said Tajik political analyst Jamshed Kadyrov.

Rakhmon dominates state media, which lionises him as the man who stopped a 1992-97 civil war. Tens of thousands died before his Moscow-backed secular government defeated its Islamist foes.

Tajikistan last week ratified a deal with Russia to extend by three decades Moscow's lease on Base 201 in the country, Russia's biggest military deployment abroad.

About a million Tajiks, or a quarter of the electorate, work abroad, mainly in Russia.

(Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Alistair Lyon)