DUSHANBE, Tajikistan, Sept 27, 2013 - A woman is for the first time bidding for the presidency in Tajikistan after an opposition bloc including an Islamic party chose a respected female rights lawyer as its candidate in the majority Muslim country.
A 65-year-old lawyer and rights activist who does not wear a headscarf, Oinikhol Bobonazarova, has been nominated to stand in the November 6 polls against President Emomali Rakhmon by the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP).
It will be the first time that Tajiks are able to vote for a woman in a presidential race since the impoverished country's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Even more unusually, Bobonazarova will represent a moderate Islamic party in a country where 99 per cent are Sunni Muslims. The opposition Social Democratic party, which has no parliamentary seats, is also expected to endorse Bobonazarova as its candidate on October 6. By Tajik law, she now has to collect 210,000 signatures from supporters to be able to stand.
"This is a unique case when a woman is standing as a candidate," the veteran activist told AFP in an interview.
"I feel great. The thing is, this isn't my first day in politics, but I have been doing it for the last 40 years. People support and welcome me and my choice. They wish me success and give me inspiration," Bobonazarova said. The IRP, the only legally registered Islamic political party in ex-Soviet Central Asia, won 8 per cent in 2010 parliamentary polls, taking up two out of 63 seats in the lower house of parliament.
The women members of the party wear full Islamic dress, but Bobonazarova, who is a Muslim, compromised by wearing a hat at a party congress. Incumbent Rakhmon, 60, who has held onto power since 1992, is expected to win a mandate for seven more years. The ruling party is set to formally announce his candidacy early next month. Opposition forces are set to use the campaign to push for reforms and and a crackdown on corruption in the country bordering Afghanistan where around 40 per cent live in poverty.
Around 1 million Tajiks work as migrant labourers in Russia, sending home remittances that make up almost half the country's GDP.