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Tajik Opposition Floundering

With the Socialists still bitterly divided and other parties marginalised, observers say political rivals to President Imomali Rahmonov are few and far between.
By Gulnora Amirshoeva
With presidential elections just four months away, the Tajik opposition has so far been unable to put forward a single credible challenger to the incumbent, Imomali Rahmonov.



Activists blame the government, which they say has mounted a sustained and effective campaign to weaken rival parties ahead of the November poll.



A recent victim, they say, has been the Socialists who, with the election fast approaching, remain divided and largely ineffectual after a bitter schism widely believed to have been engineered by the Rahmonov regime.



The Socialists – who claim a membership of 15,000 – have been split into two opposing camps since December 2004, when Abduhalim Gafarov and Kurbon Vosiev convened a special congress and expelled Mirhusein Narziev as party leader.



The Tajik justice ministry quickly backed Gafarov’s installation as the new leader, leading to accusations by Narziev and others that his rival is simply a government stooge whose agenda is identical to that of the ruling People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan, PDPT.



Narziev continues to insist his supporters, not Gafarov's faction, are the real Socialist Party.



The chaos meant the Socialists were unable to participate in the 2005 parliamentary elections, and observers agree that the party split was initiated by the government to remove yet another opposition party from the Tajik political scene.



“It is clear that all these efforts are directed towards weakening opposition forces,” said a member of the Narziev faction. “The government is doing everything to weaken the opposition. They are counting on Gafarov. He is their man.”



Even before the schism within the Socialist Party, the country’s political scene was far from vibrant – which doesn’t bode well for the upcoming presidential poll.



Rahmonov’s PDPT swept the board in the last parliamentary election. Only the Communist Party and the Islamic Rebirth Party, IRP, made it past the threshold for parliamentary representation, winning four and two seats respectively in the 63-seat body.



Another important force, the Democratic Party has never recovered from the jailing of its leader Mahmudruzi Iskandarov for 23 years on terrorism charges, while the Communists avoid confrontation with the government, so do not count as part of the opposition mainstream.



Several smaller opposition parties, including Narziev’s diminished group and the Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan, SDPT, recently floated the idea of fielding a joint candidate in November – offering voters a credible alternative to Rahmonov. But observers say prospects for the coalition actually getting off the ground are poor.



With the election approaching fast, Rahmonov is so far the only candidate who has said he will run, though the IRP has indicated it will put up a challenger. No one, however, believes that any of the prospective candidates has the slightest chance of toppling the incumbent.



Narziev has not yet given up on reuniting his divided party.



In July, he put together a commission consisting of independent experts and representatives of other Tajik political parties including the SDPT and the Democrats, asking them to adjudicate on the dispute. They found in favour of Narziev, saying they would work with him and called on Gafarov to rejoin the "real" Socialists.



Gafarov, however, ruled out any hope of reconciliation, saying the law is on his side and that his group is the one that is recognised and registered by the justice ministry.



"We do not intend to unite,” he said, adding his branch is busy preparing for the elections and will field a female candidate.



A ministry source confirmed that view. “We’re aware that party representatives set up an independent commission to look at the legitimacy of the Narziev wing. But this commission is unofficial, and we’ve said more than once that only the courts and the justice ministry can rule on the legitimacy of this party.”



Narziev has harsh words for his rivals. He alleges that both Gafarov and Vosiev were expelled from the party in March 2000 for violating the party charter and for alleged financial irregularities.



“Destructive forces are using amoral and ambitious power-seekers to discredit an opposition political organisation, its leadership, members and supporters in the eyes of the Tajik and international community, to divide it, and then remove it from the political scene,” he said. “And it is regrettable that they are being assisted by the justice ministry.”



Shokirjon Hakimov, the deputy head of the SDPT, added, “As the elections approach, this conflict will intensify further.”



Even before the split, however, the Socialists were a shadow of the party they used to be under founder Safarali Kenjaev who was gunned down in March 1999. It was rumoured that Kenjaev – a former warlord turned human rights commissioner – was planning to run against Rahmonov in a presidential election that year, a ballot that the president duly won.



Gulnora Amirshoeva is an IWPR reporter in Dushanbe.



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