There are about six weeks to go before Tajikistan's presidential vote on November 6, but few people in the country have doubts about who will serve as president during the next seven years. The foregone conclusion before the nation heads to the polls is that Emomali Rahmon, who has been in office since 1994, is assured of an easy victory.
This awareness and the unwillingness of both the government and opposition parties to admit that the upcoming presidential vote is nothing but a formality is drawing criticism and ridicule from the country's social media users. They make fun of Tajikistan's veteran president and opposition leaders by photoshopping their images and posting them on Facebook.
“The Return of the ‘Rahminator'”
Although President Rahmon has not yet confirmed that he will participate in the upcoming elections as a candidate, Facebook users expect him to announce a re-election bid soon. The image below predicts the continuation of Rahmon's rule in Tajikistan.
Reflecting a widely shared view in the country, the cartoon below suggests that Rahmon is unlikely to step down anytime soon.
Some netizens believe that the incumbent president will not even step down in 2020, after completing the last term he is constitutionally allowed to hold. The next image shows Rahmon as a royal figure cancelling further presidential elections in 2020.
And another image showing Rahmon as an old man, still serving as president.
Tajikistan's leader is not the only target of ridicule in the run-up to elections. Netizens also use doctored images to register their disdain with opposition parties. The recent decision by two leading opposition forces in the country, the Islamic Revival Party (IRPT) and Social-Democratic Party (SDPT), to throw their political support behind a female candidate who is unlikely to win the elections has prompted a storm of criticism and mockery.
The image below shows the leader of the IRPT, while the text reads: “Fake elections? No, it is fake opposition!”.
And the next image shows IRPT's leader under a portrait of President Rahmon, thus speculating that the opposition leader is following orders from the administration. The text reads: “A loyal servant of his master. A photo of the master is in the background”.
The image below suggests that by supporting the candidate who is unlikely to win, the country's opposition parties are in fact helping the incumbent president to stay in power. The text reads: “Unified candidate supported by fake forces”.
Netizens also laugh at presidential candidates nominated by smaller parties, suggesting that these candidates participate in the elections only because they were ordered to do so by the administration. For example, the next image portrays the candidate nominated by the tiny Socialist Party as a clown.
Surprisingly, there are not many doctored photos of Oynihol Bobonazarova, the female candidate whose unexpected entrance into the presidential race has drawn so much attention from social media. This is perhaps because most people know too little about Bobonazarova and do not know what to think of her. On the rare photoshopped image of the female presidential candidate (who used to teach at a university), she is portrayed as shaming President Rahmon.
Laughing at electoral process
The netizens also make fun of the very electoral process which is heavily skewed in favor of the incumbent president. The image below shows that the outcome of the presidential vote is foretold when all state-owned TV channels (which remain the main source of public information in Tajikistan) serve as Emomali Rahmon's personal PR machine.
And those Facebook users who do not have the skills to edit photos – or do not want to do so – share jokes that indicate what they think of the country's institution of elections, which consistently produces outcomes remarkably favorable to the incumbent leader. ‘Politik Reformator’ has shared [ru] the following funny story:
Барак Обама звонит Рахмону и жалуется, что есть большая вероятность, что его демократическая партия проиграет на выборах в конгресс США. Рахмон говорит: “Фигня! Я тебе помогу. Есть у меня мега-спец по выборам, Шермухаммади Шохиен [председатель Центральной комиссии по выборам] его называется. Он к тебе приедет- все уладит” Выборы в США прошли. Рахмон звонит Обаме узнать что-да-так. Обама говорит: ” Да вообщем-то все тихо- спокойно прошло. Только вот результат.странный какой -то- во всех штатах с большим отрывом победила НДПТ [правящая Народно-демократическая партия Таджикистана, возглавляемая Рахмоном].
Barack Obama calls Rahmon and complains that it is very likely that the Democratic Party will lose the elections for US Congress. Rahmon says: “[This is not a problem!] I will help you. I have a great expert in elections, Shermuhammad Shohiyon [head of Tajikistan's Central Elections Commission]; he will go to US and will take care of everything”. After the elections, Rahmon calls Obama to find out how it went. Obama says,”Well, in general, everything was peaceful and quiet. However, the outcome is very strange – the PDPT [the ruling People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan, led by Rahmon] has had a landslide victory in all states”.