Tajik Opposition Flagging Before Election Race Start

Success for opposition parties at best means a handful of seats in parliament.

Tajik Opposition Flagging Before Election Race Start

Success for opposition parties at best means a handful of seats in parliament.

Politicians in Tajikistan are gearing up for next month’s parliamentary election, although no one is predicting an upset for the president’s party and its massive majority.

The only unknown is whether the two opposition parties represented in parliament can maintain or slightly increase the handful of seats they now have.

The election is slated for February 28, and official campaigning begins on February 8 when the registration process for candidates closes. As of January 18, a total of 246 candidates had registered across the country, according to a statement by the Central Electoral Commission’s administrative chief, Muhibullo Dodojonov.

Of the 63 seats in the lower house of parliament, 22 are filled by political parties based on a proportional representation system. The rest are elected from first-past-the-post constituencies, in which most of the candidates who have registered have party affiliations and a minority are independents. That gives parties a chance to get more members into the assembly.

The People’s Democratic Party, PDP, holds most of the cards on the political scene – it occupies 52 of the lower house’s 63 seats, it has President Imomali Rahmon as its chairman, and it counts numerous officials and civil servants among its members. Critics say its privileged position gives the party unique access to state resources such as the public broadcasting company.

The only other parties in the legislature are the Communists with a mere four seats, and the Islamic Rebirth Party, 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. Their chances of getting into the parliament remain slim.

Ahead of the ballot, the PDP has devised policies intended to attract voters and has also undergone a leadership shake-up.

The party is promising to make Tajikistan self-sufficient in energy, by building new hydroelectric power stations, and to ensure the country has adequate food supplies. It has also adopted a policy that at first sight seems more the domain of the opposition, pledging to review a media law that journalists say is too restrictive. Analysts believe the PDP hopes this issue will win it support from the media and more widely, the educated classes.

At a party congress in December, allies of President Rahmon were appointed to senior positions.

The head of the presidential administration, Amirsho Miraliev, now tops the PDP’s list of members earmarked for the proportional representation seats.

Another close Rahmonov ally, deputy speaker of parliament Safar Safarov, was elected first deputy chairman of the party at the congress.

Two other deputy chairmen, Dushanbe mayor Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev and Abdulmajid Dostiev, stepped down.

One of the president’s children, Rustam Imomali, was elected to the PDP’s central committee. This is seen as a move to raise his profile although because he is under 25, he is too young to stand for parliament.

Analysts believe the reshuffle was designed to strengthen the president’s position by promoting loyalists and sidelining ambitious politicians who might one day present a challenge to him.

Political expert Rajabi Mirzo believes both Dostiev and Ubaidullaev are regarded as potentially dangerous heavyweights.

“They are very ambitious and powerful rivals for power,” he said.

Dostiev has been named as Tajikistan’s ambassador to Russia, which Mirzo sees as a neat way of getting him out of the country.

Another leading political analyst, Parviz Mullojanov, predicts that despite the recent changes, the PDP will not pursue any radical shift in policy.

“One of the reasons for the pre-election turbulence in the PDP is that they [authorities] always try to rely on closer associates ahead of the polls,” he said. “No particular changes in the party’s policy, strategy or tactics are likely. It has always been the party of one leader, the president’s party.”

The IRP is hoping for stronger representation in parliament, and is reshaping its election pledges to suit its main constituency, among Tajikistan rural population and the migrant workers who go abroad to earn a living.

Party leader Muhiddin Kabiri told IWPR the party is now focusing on social and economic issues, human rights and corruption as well as its older agenda of promoting Islamic values. (For more on the party’s efforts to remain a significant force, see Tajik Islamic Party Slowly Sidelined , RCA No. 579, 05-Jun-09.)

Apart from the PDP, only the IRP has been able to come up with the maximum permissible number of 22 candidates for party-list seats. However, it is not nominating people for all the directly-elected constituencies nationwide.

“We have selected only suitable consistencies where our position is particularly strong, and where we have the strongest candidates,” said Kabiri.

Other parties have found themselves struggling to pay the non-returnable deposit of around 1,700 US dollars per candidate. This is a substantial sum in a country where the average monthly salary is about 60 dollars. When it was introduced in 2004, the deposit was set at 400 dollars, a quarter of the current level.

Opposition parties have been campaigning for the deposit to be reduced so that they can field more candidates. However, they have failed to get this change through. (For more on this issue, see Static Politics in Tajikistan, RCA No. 586, 15-Aug-09.)

Although it came second in the last election, the Communist Party has nominated only ten party-list candidates. Its support base is dwindling since its natural constituency is among older voters with fond memories of the Soviet period.

The Social Democrats are similarly narrowing their ambitions, focusing efforts on Soghd region in northern Tajikistan, Badakhshan in the southeast and in the capital Dushanbe. Leader Rahmatullo Zoiyrov said the SDP had the strongest party structures in these parts of the country and would only be able to deploy election observers there.

With ten candidates on its election list, the SDP is hoping to get 15 per cent of the vote. However, some observers argue that because it is more critical of the government than either the IRP or the Communists, it may once again be denied the five per cent necessary to get into parliament. Unlike other parties, no SDP representative has been invited to join Tajikistan’s national elections body.

“The SDP is among the parties that is out of favour with the authorities, and none of its members has been appointed to the Central Electoral Committee,” said Rahmatullo Valiev of another opposition party, the Democrats. “Therefore, no strategy, however good, is going to help the party if the authorities are against it.”

Nafisa Pisaredjeva is an IWPR-trained contributor and Lola Olimova is IWPR’s Tajikistan editor.

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