Ruling Tajik Party Looks Set for Easy Win

Pro-presidential party remains an administrative tool for President Rahmonov rather than a strong ideological voice.

Ruling Tajik Party Looks Set for Easy Win

Pro-presidential party remains an administrative tool for President Rahmonov rather than a strong ideological voice.

Sunday, 20 November, 2005

Though more than a month remains until voting day, the result of next month s parliamentary elections in Tajikistan already appears to be a foregone conclusion.

Analysts are predicting that President Imomali Rahmonov s all-pervading People s Democratic Party of Tajikistan, PDPT, will claim 90 per cent of the vote on February 27, further extending the president's control over this Central Asian republic.

The last election in 2000, which saw the PDPT win a 65 per cent majority and 15 seats in parliament, was described by Human Rights Watch as flagrantly fraudulent . A joint United Nations/OSCE mission sent to observe that election found state-sponsored obstruction and exclusion of opposition parties, a wholly arbitrary candidate registration process, biased coverage by the state media, and numerous irregularities on election day itself.

In the 2000 poll, the Communist Party came second with 20 per cent of the vote and the Islamic Rebirth Party, IRP, just seven per cent.

A member of the IRP, which is among six parties registered to contest the February 27 election, hopes this time things will be different. “If the elections are transparent and democratic, then our party will get the most seats in parliament,” said Ahmadullo Mahmud.

However, most analysts believe another sweeping victory for the PDPT is a more realistic prospect.

The party was founded in December 1994 at the height of the civil war, as a vehicle for the Rahmonov administration. At the time the IRP was part of a guerrilla opposition.

The PDPT claims the credit for bringing unity and peace to end the bloody five-year civil war, though in reality the 1997 peace and power-sharing deal was brokered by the international community.

This image of stability is attractive to many war-weary Tajiks, although supporters of the current administration tend to express their hopes as embodied in the president rather than his party.

“As long as Imomali Rahmonov is president, there will be peace in our country," said Mukkadas Nasirova, a woman living in Dushanbe. "But if he is replaced it could lead to a repetition of the 1992 conflict.”

The PDPA boasts a large and growing membership of 100,000. It has to an extent taken over the structure and role of the old Soviet Communist Party, with all regional and municipal government chiefs expected to be members.

In a country where regional identity is strong, the PDPT is rooted in the south of Tajikistan, particularly in Kulyab region where President Rahmonov and much of his administration come from. It also claims a growing membership in the northern region of Sogd.

The party's deputy chairman, Davlatali Davlatov, attributes the growing membership to the intensive public relations work both in parliament and at grass-roots level.

“The party s popularity is growing together with that of party leader and national president Imomali Rahmonov, since there has been a stable and constant economic growth over the last two to three years,” said Davlatov.

Critics are less charitable, saying anyone working for the government or in the public sector has little choice but to join the PDPT if they want to get ahead.

Patronage is a two-way process, and in exchange for their loyalty to the party and the president, regional government heads can expect to run affairs with a fair degree of autonomy.

A businessman from the Hatlon region in southern Tajikistan told IWPR he joined after receiving a quiet word in his ear, “I was advised at the local government office to join the PDPT so that I wouldn't have problems with my business. At various events, I donate money to our party branch.”

The PDPT also works through the university system, where lecturers are instructed to encourage students to join if they want a good career.

A student who spoke to IWPR on the condition of anonymity, said, “Our teachers are constantly telling us about the PDPT and advising us to join it, as it will help us be successful in life. After all, the party is led by the president himself, and everything in the country depends on him.”

A member of the opposition Social Democratic Party was reportedly asked to switch allegiance to the PDPT, and in return was offered help in defending her dissertation and a post as head of a university department.

The PDPT kicked off its election campaign with a December 18 congress, to which the media were not invited. Little information about what was discussed has been released, though IWPR has learned that the party will run a list of 22 candidates led by deputy speaker of parliament Abdulmajid Dostiev and education minister Safarali Rajabov, and also including eight women.

The PDPT does not articulate or identify itself with a particular strong political direction, instead backing the policies of Rahmonov and his team.

So far there has been no repeat of violence that marred the 2000 poll.

Five years ago, seven people were killed and 20 wounded when a bomb exploded on a Dushanbe bus. Elsewhere, the deputy premier was attacked as he drove home in a government motorcade and PDPT candidate Shamsullo Jobirov died during an assassination attempt on Dushanbe mayor Mahmadsaid Ubaidullaev.

For some people, the political process especially one that seems sewn up in advance is irrelevant in the daily struggle to survive in this impoverished country.

“None of the political processes going in Tajikistan interest me, and I don t intend to vote at all,” said one voter.

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