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Presidential Elections in Tajikistan a Farce

Rights group details electoral manipulation

Presidential elections to be held on November 6, 1999 in Tajikistan will be a farce.

The government has excluded opposition presidential candidates from the ballot, sought to restrict the activities of political parties, and imposed additional curbs on the media. In effect, the presidential race is limited to one candidate, the incumbent President Emomali Rakhmonov.

In protest, the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) has withdrawn from the body responsible for implementing the 1997 peace accord between the government and the UTO, effectively suspending the peace process. The UTO has also withdrawn from the Central Electoral Commission.

"Tajikistan is making no progress toward democracy," said Holly Cartner, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia Division. "The government has demonstrated blatant bad faith in creating conditions for a fair and open vote."

Earlier this month, the three opposition presidential candidates announced their plans to boycott the elections, in protest against authorities' efforts to block the collection of signatures necessary for their registration as candidates. On October 21, 1999, two of the candidates were denied registration by the Supreme Court. But in an attempt to preserve the veneer of the democratic process, the government granted registration to the Islamic Renaissance Party candidate, Davlat Usmon. However, Mr. Usmon has requested that his registration be canceled.

Restrictions on freedom of association, freedom of expression, and personal security have become particularly severe in recent months.

"Coming out of a civil war, Tajikistan is often described as the special case in Central Asia," said Ms. Cartner. "But there can be no excuse this time around for its failure to meet its international commitments."

These are the first elections to be held since the June 27, 1997 government-United Tajik Opposition (UTO) peace accord, which brought to an end five years of civil war. Notably, the 1994 presidential elections, which brought President Rakhmonov to power, were also marred by flagrant fraud.

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