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Tajik Electoral Body Under Fire as Polls Loom

Election officials reject claims of inactivity levelled by OSCE observers.
By Sanjar Hamidov
Tajikistan’s election commission has come under fire from an OSCE observer team, which accuses it of failing to deal adequately with allegations of procedural violations in the run-up to the February 28 parliamentary ballot.


In an interim report issued on February 22, the OSCE election monitoring team in Tajikistan expressed concern about the “transparency and accountability” of work by the Central Commission for Elections and Referenda, CCER.



The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, ODIHR, said that the national election body had not met in session since January 19.



“The CCER is so far not considering complaints in plenary sessions and is not issuing official documents,” said the OSCE/ODIHR report. Instead, it said, allegations were dealt with via “ad hoc procedures” where the extent to which commission members were consulted depended on an individual assessment of how serious any given complaint was.



“Formal complaints have so far been responded to by a letter, signed by the CCER chairperson, rather than by a formal decision,” said the report. “This manner of dealing with complaints effectively undermines the collegial status and inclusive composition of the electoral commission, as well as the principle of transparency. Furthermore, the lack of official CCER decisions on complaints may undermine the right of complainants for further appeal to court.”



The report was published six days before the parliamentary election, in which eight political parties are taking part.



Of the 63 seats in the lower house of parliament, 22 are earmarked for parties based on proportional representation. The rest are elected from first-past-the-post constituencies, although here too most of the candidates who have registered have party affiliations.



The People’s Democratic Party, PDP, is tipped to win an easy victory. It currently holds 52 of the lower house’s 63 seats. A poll of 1,500 people which the International Foundation for Electoral Systems conducted in December and January showed that 70 per cent of respondents would vote for the PDP.



The only other parties in the legislature are the Communists with four seats and the Islamic Rebirth Party, IRP, which won two seats in the 2005 election but lost one of them last April, when the incumbent stepped down on health grounds. Others like the Democratic Party, the Socialists and the Social Democratic Party, SDP, did not make it past the five per cent threshold set for the 2005 ballot.



In a statement following the OSCE’s criticisms, the election commission dismissed the international observers’ findings as “unfounded”.



“The OSCE/ODIHR interim report evaluating the way complaints and suggestions made to the CCER has astonished us,” said the commission’s statement. “Representatives of the [OSCE] mission are constantly present when complaints and suggestions sent to the CCER and the courts are considered, they express their views, and these are always taken on board.”



In addition, the commission said, it had held six sessions in total, of which the most recent took place on February 11 and 16, not on January 19 as the OSCE claimed.



In an interview for IWPR the CCER’s administrative chief, Muhibullo Dodojonov, said, “To date, 52 complaints and reports from political parties and from single-constituency candidates have been received. All plaintiffs have been sent a response within three days.”



In its report, the OSCE observer mission said it was aware of ten complaints made to the CCER and four more to district-level commissions,



Dodojonov said the commission was unable to deal with certain types of case, and referred these instead to the courts or the prosecution service.



Aside from the controversy over the CCER’s handling of alleged abuses, one of the issues affecting the complaints system seems to be that few of the allegations that have been aired publicly have been formally lodged.



The OSCE observer mission noted that as far as it was aware, the IRP was the only party that had availed itself of the formal complaints procedure. While several parties had made allegations to the observer mission or in the Tajik media, it said, “few of these complaints have been officially submitted to the relevant bodies”.



IWPR spoke to representatives of opposition parties, who cited various procedural violations they said were encountered by their candidates and activists. However, many of these related to issues like alleged misbehaviour by the police which fall outside the CCER’s remit.



The IRP says that since campaigning began on February 8, it has recorded at least 50 violations by district and provincial election commissions, and problems with the police as well.



With just over 30,000 members, the IRP is the third largest political group after the PDP and the Communists. Apart from the PDP, only the IRP has nominated the maximum permissible number of 22 candidates for party-list seats.



The head of the IRP’s campaign headquarters, Vohidkhon Kosiddin, told IWPR that two female party members were held at a police station for several hours after distributing election literature in Dushanbe. Because of the nature of the complaint, this case has gone to court rather than to the CCER.



Another incident about which the party has complained happened when a car in which its leader Muhiddin Kabiri was travelling was flagged down by police in the town of Vahdat, not far from Dushanbe, and the occupants were subjected to insults. This case was referred to the prosecution service, which said that the police acted lawfully and merely conducted a brief identity check on the vehicle.



The deputy head of the Social Democratic Party, Shokirjon Hokimov, said its activists had recorded at least 25 breaches of the law in the northern Soghd region alone. Party leader Rahmatullo Zoirov said the SDP faced frequent difficulties with local election bodies which were supposed to facilitate meetings with voters, but only did so for PDP candidates.



Although Tajikistan is an OSCE member, comments from the CCER’s Dodojonov and OSCE/ODIHR mission chief Artis Pabriks suggest they differ on how elections in Tajikistan should be viewed.



Dodojonov told IWPR that the Tajik people had their own way of thinking, and the country was not the same as the United States, Russia or European states.



“Each nation has its own experience of holding polls. There have been successes in the conduct of this campaign and there have of course been shortcomings,” he added.



Interviewed by IWPR’s radio reporters earlier this month, Pabriks said “We realise where it is that we’re working, but there are some universal principles… from which we cannot step back.”



“The argument that ‘universal standards don’t apply to us because we are completely different’ does not work,” he said. “If we say we don’t have universal values that are important to everyone, we will slide back hundreds of years to a point where there’s no respect for the individual, for women, indeed for anything.” The interview can be heard in full here in Russian and Tajik.



Sanjar Hamidov is an independent journalist in Tajikistan.

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