Adena was the BBC Media Action Fellow at the
Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ)
in Spring 2013, where he conducted a research
project on social media and governance in Tajikistan.

On 6 November, Tajikistan will elect its president. The
run-up to the election has proved a milestone for social media networks in the country
– with fierce political debate taking place online and opposition leaders using
social networks to call for a boycott of the election.

Although internet penetration is low in Tajikistan compared
to its Central Asian neighbours, the level of political debate on social media
platforms – on Facebook in particular – is higher than in Uzbekistan and

Traditional media in Tajikistan is either controlled by the
state or not highly advanced, so the internet has emerged as the only place
people can find alternative news and, even more importantly, add their voice to
the debate.

Social networks' potential to reach the more than one
million Tajik migrants working abroad – whose remittances amount to roughly 47%
of Tajikistan's national GDP – is also changing political debate within the

Digital activism

One major complaint taken up by activists and ordinary
Tajiks on Facebook was a decision by the Central Election Commission (CEC) about
how Tajikistan's migrants could nominate presidential candidates.

The Commission ruled these migrants could only nominate candidates
by providing a signature. And these signatures had to be approved and stamped
by the heads of their home districts and towns in Tajikistan – a physical
impossibility for a migrant working abroad.  

In addition, the number of polling centres available to the
estimated 1m – 1.5m Tajiks working abroad has come in for online criticism. According
to Tajik law, there should be one polling centre for every 3,000 people.

The election commission has said most of what they call "seasonal migrants" would return to Tajikistan for the election but, in the
face of widespread criticism on local media and social networks, they have said
around 200,000 migrants will remain in Russia alone - where there will be 24
polling centres.

Opposition leader Rahmatillah Zayirov of the
Social-Democratic Party used Facebook to respond to the CEC's actions and
called for a boycott of the election.  

Many Facebook users responded by replacing their profile
pictures with an image from the boycott campaign. 

Electoral transparency

Critics of the government have also used social networks to attack
the authorities' decision not to create an electronic voters list.  

Islamic Rebirth Party analyst Hekmatollah Sayfollahzadeh
told me via Facebook that an electronic electoral roll would have made it
easier to register voters and could prevent fraud and increase transparency
during the election.

In the days before the election, this issue has gained even
more attention online. Human rights activist Fayzinissa Vahidova wrote on
Facebook: "For the first time after since the collapse of the Soviet Union, I
received an invitation letter to election. However, they brought invitations
even for my children, who study abroad and can go to a Tajik embassy to vote. They
even brought invitations for a person who hasn't been a Tajik citizen for more
than a decade."

Boycott call

In the run-up to this election, therefore, social networks
have allowed opposition activists to reach out to voters within and outside

Dadajan Atavollayev, dissident journalist and leader of the
opposition Vatandar Movement, said, "If each labour migrant calls back to his
family in Tajikistan and asks five other members not to participate in election
or vote against Mr Rahman, it would be a real blow to Mr Rahman’s government."

Tajikistan's migrants are their families' real bread earners
and economically, they could be major players in the country. But we shall have
to wait and see how, through social networks, they could also start to flex
their political muscles.

Related links

Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford

Adena’s blogs from Tajikistan

Follow BBC Media Action on Twitter and