Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon has been re-elected with 90 per cent of the votes in a nationwide poll seen as largely ceremonial.
The result, securing Rahmon another seven years in power, was announced by the electoral commission in the capital Dushanbe on Monday.
Around 85 per cent of the country’s five million eligible voters handed in their ballots, according to authorities.
Four other contenders officially competed in the election, though there was little doubt Rahmon would cling to power.
Rahmon, 68, has led the mountainous, former Soviet republic bordering China and Afghanistan for nearly three decades.
Having come to power amid a devastating civil war in the early 1990s following Tajikistan’s transition to independence from the Soviet Union, Rahmon has defined himself as the guarantor of the state’s stability.
Human Rights Watch described Tajikistan in a recent report as having a “dire human rights situation,” while the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which independently monitored the vote, has never recognized an election in the country as democratic.
Tajikistan is one of the poorest countries in the region, with many people dependent on remittances from relatives abroad, which make up 40 per cent of gross domestic product.
While its leaders long claimed Tajikistan was free of the coronavirus, the country has been hard-hit by the pandemic, recording more than 10,000 cases.
The win will allow Rahmon to overtake Kazakhstan’s recently retired Nursultan Nazarbayev as the former Soviet Union’s longest-ruling leader. Rahmon, who removed term limits through a 2016 constitutional reform, has been in power since 1992.
While disputed ballots in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and fellow former Soviet republic Belarus have triggered massive upheaval, similar developments appear unlikely in Tajikistan – a Persian-speaking nation of 9.5 million people.
But Rahmon and his government face unprecedented challenges after the weakest economy of all Soviet successor states joined others in being battered by the coronavirus pandemic.
Over a million Tajiks are believed to work abroad, mostly in Russia.
Alex Kokcharov, a country risk research analyst at IHS Markit in London, said remittances sent home dropped “by 15–25 percent year on year in the first half, according to differing reports”.
“If a large number of Tajik worker migrants would come back to Tajikistan from Russia where many have lost jobs in this year’s crisis, it will increase domestic instability – both politically and economically,” said Kokcharov, whose company predicts a 6.5 percent contraction of the economy this year.
The bleak economic outlook also raises questions about how the government will be able to service external debt, equating to more than a third of GDP, with China a leading debt-holder.