(New York, March 29, 2000) - Recent elections to the lower chamber of a new parliament in Tajikistan were marred by flagrant fraud and manipulation of the vote, Human Rights Watch charged today.
The presidential People's Democratic Party (PDP) has thus far received thirty of the sixty-three seats in the lower chamber. Thirteen have gone to the Communist Party, two to the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), and fifteen to independent candidates. The independent candidates, moreover, are almost without exception widely acknowledged to be solidly pro-government.
A joint United Nations-Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observer mission statement noted that the February 27 elections failed to meet minimum democratic standards. But the government intensified its efforts to eliminate candidates in the March 12 run-offs who were perceived as not supportive of the president or as solid alternatives to the ruling party. Many of these candidates were either de-registered, threatened, or forced by authorities to withdraw their candidacy.
"The extensive and egregious violations committed during the campaign and on election day immediately called into question the integrity of the vote," said Holly Cartner, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia Division. "But identical violations committed during the second round show that the Rakhmonov government has used every means possible to rig the vote and deliberately limit any real pluralism."
In a letter to President Emomali Rakhmonov, Human Rights Watch documented obstruction of political parties; a wholly arbitrary candidate registration process and intimidation of independent candidates; numerous and grave irregularities in the voting procedure; state interference in the electoral process; and flagrantly biased coverage by the state media.
"We said the November 1999 presidential elections were a farce because they were a rubber stamp for just one candidate," said Ms. Cartner. "Sadly, many elements of this election are just as absurd. Despite its promises to the contrary, the government has once again demonstrated blatant bad faith in creating the conditions for a free and fair vote."
The ballot marked the last major step of the transitional period outlined in the June 1997 peace agreement that ended Tajikistan's five-year civil war. The government has made repeated promises to ensure free and fair conditions for the parliamentary ballot after the November 1999 presidential elections, which were criticized by the international community for severe restrictions on freedom of association and expression. In those elections, President Rakhmonov was reelected for a seven-year term.
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