Tajikistan parliamentary voting sullied by pressure on opponents

Dushanbe (Tajikistan) (AFP) - The ruling People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDPT) is expected to sweep parliamentary voting Sunday in the former Soviet republic in polling tainted by complaints of pressure from opposition parties.

The tightly-controlled Central Asian state's election commission declared the vote valid at roughly 1000 GMT, when it said that almost 75 percent of the 4.3 million electorate had voted.

Results are expected to be announced on Monday.

Eight parties and 285 candidates are contesting the ballot.

The ruling PDPT has 55 of 63 seats in the outgoing parliament.

The country's 62-year-old President Emomali Rakhmon, who chairs the PDPT, cast his vote early in the day but did not address the media.

No Tajik election has ever been declared free and fair by international observers.

Following complaints that citizens lost the ability to communicate via SMS messages during election day, the representative of a major mobile operator confirmed to AFP that the government's communications service had asked operators to disable text messages in the interests of "national security."

Muhiddin Kabiri, leader of the largest opposition party, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), told AFP that "total pressure" had been applied on its candidates, more than half of whom failed to get registered to stand in the parliamentary vote.

IRPT has two seats in the outgoing parliament, and Kabiri told journalists on Sunday that the party would "certainly" be represented in the next legislature.

-'Complete apathy'-

Rahmatillo Zoirov, chair of the Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan, which is not represented in the current parliament, told AFP that people had "no hopes" for a transparent vote, and had responded with "complete apathy" to the election campaign.

In addition to over 3,000 polling stations in the country, a further three were open at Tajikistan's diplomatic missions and consular offices in Russia, where over one million Tajiks are thought to be working.

According to the World Bank, Tajikistan is the most remittance-dependent country in the world, with the money sent home by economic migrants equivalent to almost half of GDP.

Many migrants have been returning home following the weakening of the Russian ruble, however.

Tajikistan shares a 1,344 kilometre (835 mile) border with Afghanistan and endured a bitter civil war from 1992 to 1997. It also hosts a key Russian military base, the lease for which runs until 2042.

President Rakhmon extended his two-decade grip on power in the country after a comfortable win in a 2013 presidential ballot that the OSCE called "an election without a real choice."