Tajik leader set to win another term

Voters in Tajikistan are due to go to the polls, with incumbent President Imomali Rakhmon widely expected to win a new seven-year term.

Mr Rakhmon, 61, faces five challengers, but the only genuine opposition candidate is barred from standing.

The authoritarian leader has been in office for more than 20 years in the impoverished former Soviet republic.

The EU and the US have not recognised a single election in the Central Asian country as free and fair.

Security challenges

Polls across the mountainous country are due to open at 01:00 GMT and close at 15:00 GMT.

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Preliminary results are expected on Thursday.

Mr Rakhmon, who secured 79% of the vote in the 2006 election, did not campaign actively this time.

Instead, the president relied on extensive media coverage of his visits around the country, which his opponents say was heavily biased in his favour.

The opposition accuses Mr Rakhmon – whose huge billboards are seen everywhere in the capital Dushanbe and other towns – of developing a personality cult. He denies the claim.

The five other presidential candidates have refrained from publicly criticising Mr Rakhmon.

Human rights activists Oynihol Bobonazarova – widely seen as the only genuine opposition candidate – is banned from the polls.

The electoral commission said earlier she had failed to collect the necessary 210,000 signatures of eligible voters to be officially registered.

Despite the expected easy victory, critics say Mr Rakhmon will face rising social tension in the country where some 50% of the population live in poverty.

Almost half of the nation’s GDP is earned by more than one million Tajik migrants working abroad, especially in Russia,

Analysts say Tajikistan could also face further security challenges from Islamist groups in neighbouring Afghanistan after the planned pullout of the US-led forces next year.

Tajikistan was devastated by the 1992-97 civil war between the Moscow-backed government and the Islamist-led opposition.

Up to 50,000 were killed before the conflict ended with a UN-brokered peace agreement.