Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Voting was brisk on Sunday in a parliamentary election that is expected to strengthen the president’s nearly two-decade grip on power in Tajikistan, an impoverished country on Afghanistan’s border.
But the election also has the potential to increase the influence of the only legally registered Islamic party in former Soviet Central Asia.
More than half of the 3.5 million eligible voters cast their ballots by midday, the Central Elections Commission said.
Many of those voting in the capital, Dushanbe, said they backed the Islamic Revival Party, which currently has only two deputies in the 63-seat parliament.
“They have pure intentions, they have a pure heart and people believe in them,” said Badriddin Rustamov, an engineer. “I don’t know the leader of the party … but I feel that I can trust him and he would do a better job.”
Party leader Muhiddin Kabiri said he believed it could win at least 10 seats if the vote was fair.
Most of Tajikistan’s largely Sunni Muslim population is secular-minded, and the Islamic Revival Party stresses Tajikistan’s own Muslim identity while calling for an Islamic republic.
The governing People’s Democratic Party, which now holds 52 seats, is expected to run away with the election.
Alidzhon Khakimov, a 59-year-old economist, said he voted for the governing party. “This party is our well-being, our future,” he said. “They are building the Rogun hydroelectric plant for us and will bring us to energy independence.”
The plant would allow the country to meet its own electricity needs and to export power to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
More than a decade after a devastating five-year civil war, Tajikistan is still struggling to provide basic goods and services to its people, but the governing party has announced plans aimed at increasing economic growth.