DUSHANBE – Registration of candidates for the February 28 elections for the lower house of parliament is finished, and 266 candidates, 73 of whom are affiliated with parties, will compete for the 61 seats.
On February 8, the Election Observation Mission from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) issued its first interim report on the elections. In the report, experts and observers express concern that the lack of domestic, non-partisan observation could significantly hinder the transparency of the elections.
“The losing party will always say that the results were rigged. I think only domestic observers acting in the nongovernmental sector could provide an objective evaluation of the elections. After all, the results are not important to us; the process itself is important for us”, said the representative of a Rasht Region nongovernmental organisation who requested anonymity.
“Those most critical of us are the observers from the OSCE/ODIHR. They criticise and really point out the shortcomings of our elections. The rest of the missions’ observers look at the outward aspects – whether it went festively, whether balloons were hung”, said Abdugani Mamadazimov, head of the Association of Political Scientists of Tajikistan.
According to the OSCE’s estimation, 540 international representatives from the OSCE/ODIHR, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, European Parliament, SCO and CIS will be observing the February 28 elections.
Mamadazimov said the presence of national observers is important for electoral transparency as it allows civil society to independently evaluate the electoral process. The Association of Political Scientists of Tajikistan is preparing national observers but by law can train only political parties and media representatives.
“In each constituency, we have trained 20 observers from political parties and the media. We prepared work binders for the observers, where there are ready-made forms that they can fill out in the event they detect violations”, said Mamadazimov.
Farangis Azizova, general manager of the Tajik office of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), told Central Asia Online that an effort was made last year to amend the election law to permit more observers but that parliament did not take up the amendment.
“I think there is a chance that improvement of our electoral legislation will be continued after the election", she said. "Moreover, we plan to help create a unified electoral code”.
Artis Pabriks, head of the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission, said other recommendations have gone unfulfilled as well. Among them are recommendations for inclusive and pluralistic training of electoral commissions, clear statutes on voter registration and voting, procedures for ballot counting and procedures for handling complaints about electoral violations.
“Also, from meetings with representatives of political parties we know that the electoral deposit, which is set at 7,000 somoni [US $1,600], is too high", he said. "And it has turned out to be too much for some potential candidates".
Mamadazimov said, thanks to the high deposit, “[T]here was most likely an order from above not to impede the registration of parliamentary candidates from the opposition. If they don't win, the deposit will not be returned and will be transferred to the budget”.
The OSCE/ODIHR also points to the lack of media access in remote areas, a lack of media plurality, and libel and slander laws that might inhibit media from reporting complaints and violations. Some resent the OSCE/ODIHR telling Tajiks what to do.
“The recommendations of the OSCE/ODIHR do not always correspond to the realities of our lives", said Nusratullo Khalimov, an activist in the Tajikistan Youth Union.
"It is necessary to take into account our mentality and our traditions. Why drive everyone under the same standards”? Pabriks said the mission does take into account national peculiarities but that it cannot ignore universal principles.
“If we say that we do not have universal values that are important for every person, then we would revert back to hundreds of years ago, where there would be no respect for people, women", he said. "It would be an egocentric government, an egocentric society where everyone could do what they want”.
International experts and observers have so far refrained from preliminary evaluations based on current observations and forecasts.
However, IFES office head Michael Getto said, “The elections may be held transparently and democratically if the law is enforced at all levels. What is most important is for the law to be followed by local authorities”.
“I am confident that even if the current election will not be 100 percent transparent and honest, it will not be one, but two, steps forward”, said Mamadazimov.