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Tajik vote overshadowed by ruble slump

Voters have cast ballots in Tajikistan for a new parliament likely to be held by President Emomali Rakhmon's secularists. Many migrant Tajiks have returned to the Central Asian nation because of Russia's economic slump.

Ex-Soviet Tajikistan voted on Sunday with few signs of genuine parliamentary opposition to the 22-year-old rule of President Rakhmon. Election results are expected on Monday morning local time.

Campaigning had been hardly visible, said monitors of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). They added that online news sources had been "intermittently blocked" and local journalists were practicing "self-censorship," fearing intimidation.

Rakhmon's secular government defeated Islamist rebels in a bitter 1992-97 civil war. In the last election in 2010, the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), which includes many former fighters, won only two seats.

Its leader, Muhiddin Kabiri, said the IRPT hope to win at least five seats to form its own parliamentary caucus or faction - despite what he said were attempts to "blacken" the party's reputation via social media.

Firm hold in past parliament

Tadschikischer Präsident Emomalii Rahmon, Tadschikistan

Rakhmon won a fourth term as president in 2013

Since 2010, Rakhmon's People's Democratic Party has held 55 mandates in the 63-seat Assembly of Representatives, parliament's lower chamber.

The

president himself was re-elected in 2013

to a fourth seven-year term.

Voters thronged to polling stations in sunny weather in the capital Dushanbe on Sunday, with some expressing fears about their economic prospects.

Extra jobs for returning migrants

During campaigning, the government promised 200,000 extra jobs for Tajiks returning from Russia, where manual jobs, such as cleaning and snow clearing, no longer generate adequate remittances given the ruble's sharp decline.

Money sent to families back home has until recently accounted for up to half of Tajikistan's gross domestic product (GDP).

Russia's economy has suffered under Western sanctions linked to the Ukraine crisis and plunging prices worldwide for oil and gas sales.

A migrant workers' association in the western Russian city of Saint Petersburg said last week that migrants from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan were increasingly adverse to "meager" pay.

Social tensions

Tajik political analysts have warned that social tensions could rise further in Tajikistan as a result.

Alexander Knyazev, a Central Asian analyst, said a return of a large number of disgruntled workers might leave President Rakhmon facing social unrest.

Tajikistan, a mountainous nation of 8.3 million people, hosts 7,000 Russian soldiers, making it the largest contingent stationed abroad outside Crimea.

ipj/gsw (dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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