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Tajikistan: More Parties Don't Make Pluralism

Five political parties instead of three now hold seats in parliament, but only one of them really counts.
By Nargis Hamrabaeva
Tajikistan’s parliamentary election has ended as expected in victory for the governing party, amid claims of serious irregularities levelled by international observers and opposition parties.

The biggest change is that two more parties have entered the lower house of parliament, although neither of them is from the opposition and with only two seats each, they are unlikely to make much of an impact.

At a press conference on March 1 announcing the preliminary election results, the chairman of the Central Commission for Elections and Referenda, CCER, Mirzoali Boltuev, said the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, had won with 72 per cent of the vote.

The Islamic Rebirth Party, IRP, came a distant second with 7.7 per cent, followed by the Communists with 7.2 per cent.

Following this initial announcement, the CCER issued a press release containing revised figures. These showed that the Agrarian Party and the Economic Development Party, previously credited with 4.9 and 4.7 per cent of the vote, had now crept up to 5.01 and 5.09 per cent, respectively, enough to get them over the five per cent threshold needed to qualify for representation in parliament.

The opposition Democratic, Socialist and Social Democratic parties were ruled out as they gained less than one per cent of the vote each, according to the CCER.

The percentages are used to calculate the division of 22 of the 63 seats in the lower chamber, which are set aside for political parties under a proportional representation system based on candidate lists. The results are now in for all but one of the remaining 41 seats, which were contested on a first-past-the-post basis. In one constituency, the vote is to held again.

Pending that re-run, the PDP has secured 45 seats – 16 by the party-list system, and the rest in first-past-the-post constituencies. The other four successful parties get two seats each – the IRP and the Communists solely based on the party list, whereas the Agrarian and Economic Development parties each get one elected and one “list” candidate into the legislature. A further nine candidates were elected as independents.

The result is disappointing for both the Islamic party and the Communists. The former merely hold onto the two seats it won last time, while the Communists have lost two of the four seats they held until now.

Among politics-watchers, the arrival of two more parties in parliament is not being seen as a major turnaround. The more sceptical see it as a poor attempt to demonstrate that Tajikistan is becoming more pluralist and democratic.

The Agrarian and Economic Development parties, both regarded as supportive of the current administration, did not compete in the last election since they were only set up in 2006.

Kiromsho Sharifzoda, a politics lecturer at the Tajik National University, says the Agrarian Party does not have much of a track-record and is little more than a prop for the current administration.

Political analyst Parviz Mullojonov agreed, describing the Agrarians and the Economic Development Party as “essentially two branches of the governing party”.

Other parties, both in and out of parliament, say they were robbed of their rightful shares of the vote. The IRP and the Social Democrats have both said they will take the CCER to court over irregularities they allege took place on voting day.

The IRP’s leader, Muhiddin Kabiri, says the tally kept by his campaign headquarters suggested the party won around 30 per cent of the vote, and that “all independent observers say that we got in the region of 35 to 40 per cent of the vote".

SDP chairman Rahmatullo Zoirov, whose party won under one per cent, said exit polls at one polling station in the capital Dushanbe would put its figure upwards of 12 and possibly close to 15 per cent.

A number of analysts agree that the SDP, a party that is vocally critical of President Imomali Rahmon’s administration, should have done better than the poll results indicate, as it has been improving its standing in Dushanbe and in urban centres in the northern Soghd region and in Badakhshan in the southeast.

“I don’t believe that the SDP failed to surmount the five per cent threshold,” said Sharifzoda. “Unfortunately, in Tajikistan votes are distributed rather than won.”

Even the Communist Party, which rarely voices harsh criticism of the authorities, believes some of its votes must have been quietly transferred to the PDP.

“This election that has taken place is in reality just a parody,” said party leader Shodi Shabdolov at a press conference after the results were announced.

Western election monitors say the conduct of the vote was deeply flawed.

In its initial findings issued on March 1, the OSCE’s election observation mission spoke of “serious irregularities… including high incidence of observed proxy and family voting, despite the stated aim of the authorities of Tajikistan to hold more democratic and transparent elections”.

"I'm happy that election day took place in a generally good atmosphere, but I'm even more disappointed that these elections failed on many basic democratic standards,” said Pia Christmas-Moeller, vice-president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and coordinator of the election observation mission. “Such serious irregularities weaken genuine democratic progress. There is still a long way to go, and hopefully the new parliament will take up this challenge."

The OSCE report did note “certain small positive steps”, such as making the composition of some electoral commissions more inclusive than they were in previous elections. But as observer mission head Artis Pabriks said, “The stated will of the authorities to follow democratic procedures did not translate into concrete measures to address the significant shortcomings that marred the campaign environment and election day".

A statement from the United States embassy in Dushanbe highlighted similar problems with the ballot, such as widespread failure to require voters to produce identification, procedural irregularities during the count, and cases where local electoral officials showed a bias in favour of the PDP.

The CCER’s administrative chief, Muhibullo Dodojonov appeared to sidestep the serious nature of the allegations.

"After every election, someone is happy and someone is unhappy," he said in remarks quoted by Reuters.

PDP deputy leader Safar Safarov glossed over the criticisms levelled by western election monitors and focused on the praise offered by observers from other former Soviet states.

“International observers, inter alia from the missions sent by the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, have confirmed that fair and transparent elections took place in Tajikistan,” he said in remarks quoted by the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti. “Our party’s own observers did not identify irregularities.”

Safarov said his party’s chairman, President Rahmonov, was happy with both the electoral process and the outcome.

Nargis Hamrabaeva is an IWPR-trained journalist and Lola Olimova is IWPR Tajik editor.

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