Tue, Nov 07, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Tajiks cast votes amid doubts about fairness of polls

AP , DUSHANBE

Tajiks voted yesterday in the Central Asian nation's second presidential election since a civil war in the 1990s, with incumbent Emomali Rakhmonov widely expected to win amid doubts about the fairness of the poll.

After voting at a Dushanbe polling station, Rakhmonov rebuffed concerns voiced by opposition groups and monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that the vote would not be transparent or democratic.

"More than 98 percent of those living in our country are Muslim. We have a completely different culture," he told reporters.

"To say this election 100 percent meets [European] standards, this is absolutely incorrect. Still, over the past 15 years, there has been some result, compared with previous elections," he said.

International observers declared the 2003 parliamentary elections neither free nor fair, along with a series of constitutional changes that were enacted that could result in Rakhmonov staying in office until 2020.

The three most-established opposition parties are either boycotting the vote or refused to field candidates, accusing authorities of limiting access to the media and putting up artificial obstacles to campaigning.

The Central Election Commission said that as of 8am, 19.4 percent of the eligible voters nationwide had voted.

Support for Rakhmonov, who is standing for another seven-year term, is undeniable.

For many, what's most important is that the poor, mountain nation is now stable in the wake of the 1992 to 1997 war that pitted Islamic forces against the Moscow-backed government, in which more than 30,000 people were killed and more than a million displaced.

Tajiks "may be poor but it's still better than it was in the war," Mukri Georgadze, a 48-year-old Georgian wine seller and former journalist, said ahead of the vote. "Stable poverty is better than war."

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