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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tajikistan: No Solution Seen in Poll

War-racked Tajikistan, its economy in ruins, holds its first presidential elections Sunday, but they are unlikely to resolve a crisis that has reduced the Central Asian state to a virtual Russian protectorate.


Tajikistan has been brought to its knees by a war which has killed thousands and wrecked the economy.


"It is clear that Tajikistan as an ordinary, self-running country just does not exist," said one Western diplomat. "Its economy is in chaos and it is heavily dependent on Russia for its continuing existence and security."


On the surface, Sunday's poll -- the same day as a referendum on a new constitution -- pits acting head of state Imamali Rakhmonov against former Prime Minister Abdulmalik Abdulajanov, now Tajikistan's ambassador to Moscow.


But most of the ex-communist government's real opponents, whose guerrillas have been waging raids since late 1992, are not taking part and want the election called off.


"Whatever the outcome I think it is going to be rejected by someone, probably the majority," said regional expert Shirin Akiner.


Many members of the opposition, an alliance of Islamic groups and liberals, are not even in Tajikistan, but in bases across the frontier with Afghanistan.


Political labels and ideologies count for little alongside clan loyalties in Tajikistan, which has been torn by ethnic conflict since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.


The country is broadly split between northern and southern clans. Abdulajanov, 46, should be able to count on the support of clans in the industrial north.


Rakhmonov, a former Communist Party chief, has his power base among southern clans who are also divided.


"No-one is strong enough on their own to take power," said Akiner of the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies.