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Tajikistan Election to Extend President's Two-decade Rule

Tajikistan Election to Extend President's Two-Decade Rule
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The tightly-controlled Central Asian country of Tajikistan is holding a presidential vote on Wednesday. The election is expected to extend the rule of longtime Russian-backed leader Emomali Rakhmon for another seven years.

Observers say the election in Tajikistan will be an election in name only. The only real opposition candidate, human rights activist Oynihol Bobonazarova, has been barred from the race on the grounds that she has failed to collect the required signatures of 5 percent of the nation's eligible voters. Bobonazarova claims the situation in the country is dismal.

"First of all, the economy is in a dire state. Secondly, human rights, especially freedom of speech, religion and others, are totally impossible to exercise now," said Bobonazarova.

More than 90 percent of Tajiks are Muslim.

Bobonazarova thinks the restriction of freedoms in Tajikistan could lead to Islamist radicalism.

"It is very bad, you know. We, the people, we say the changes in the state system must be made through elections, we respect the law. But the society already demands other, more radical people. So if we are replaced by radicals, the state is to blame,” said Bobonazarova.

Moscow-backed incumbent Emomali Rakhmon has ruled the former Soviet republic since 1992. His government has maintained tight control over mosques and religious education in Tajikistan in an attempt to prevent radicalism.

Russia has backed his faction against a loose coalition of Islamists, nationalist and democratic groups. Western monitors said the last election seven years ago lacked any genuine competition, but many Tajiks don't seem to mind.

"I think our president is the best candidate, because he has vast experience and he has really done a lot for the country. I will vote for him," said Eradz Asadullayev, a shop assistant.

Tajikistan's economy, based primarily on cotton and aluminum, nearly collapsed during a civil war following the break up of the Soviet Union. Even though the economy has been growing in recent years, Tajikistan remains the poorest country in Central Asia. Many Tajiks work abroad; remittances account for almost half of the country's GDP. According to the World Bank, Tajikistan is the world's most remittance-dependent economy.

Most Tajik migrants work in Russia, making the country's economy dependant on its bigger neighbor. Moscow has used deportations of Tajik migrant workers and threats to tighten entry rules as clout over the Tajik government.