DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (AP) — Tajikistan's president has won a fourth term in an election that has been criticized by Western observers and extends his more than 20-year rule in the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation.
The Central Election Commission said Thursday that Emomali Rakhmon won 83.6 percent of the vote, but monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the top trans-Atlantic security and rights group, criticized the previous day's vote.
They say that state media had been dominated by coverage of Rakhmon's campaign and that registration requirements were designed to limit competition. "While quiet and peaceful, this was an election without a real choice," Gerdana Comic, Special Coordinator for the OSCE mission, said in a news conference in Dushanbe.
The Tajik government long has drawn criticism for its crackdown on dissent and its tight grip on the media. Authorities in the impoverished Sunni Muslim nation of 8 million have sought to exploit public fears of a replay of a bloody civil war of the 1990s, casting the opposition as a threat to the country's stability.
Rights activist Oinihol Bobonazarova was denied registration after the election commission claimed she had failed to gather enough signatures to run, and the remaining five challengers waged lackluster campaigns and praised Rakhmon's rule.
They voiced little criticism after the official results were released. The president's closest rival only took 5 percent of the vote. "There were some insignificant flaws and shortcomings, but nothing that could have truly influenced the results," said Olimdzhon Boboyev of the Economic Reform Party, who polled at 3.9 percent.
Tajikistan has hosted a Russian military base and recently allowed Moscow to extend its lease until 2042. Along with five other ex-Soviet nations, Tajikistan is part of the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization.
It also has been an important partner for the United States, allowing coalition troops and cargo to travel to and from Afghanistan over its territory. However, its ex-Soviet neighbors Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have played a far greater role.
"We welcome the progress Tajikistan has made in improving its electoral process, but there is still a long way to go," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. "We urge the Tajik government to begin working now to strengthen political pluralism, allow true opposition parties to operate, and expand operating space for independent media and civil society groups."