Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Tajikistan: New Party Fights for Life

Another opposition group finds the way blocked to next year's election.
By Nargis Zokirova

A new opposition party in Tajikistan is fighting for the right to exist, accusing the government in deliberately trying to stop opposition forces growing ahead of a general election in a year's time.


On April 5, the Taraqqiyot (Progress) party filed an appeal with the supreme court, contesting the justice ministry's decision a week earlier not to grant it official registration. Until it is registered, it does not count as a political party and cannot run for election.


Justice ministry official Davlat Sulaimonov said the party's application was turned down after 11 people it listed as members in its registration papers denied any affiliation.


"We are preparing new lists of party supporters. We won't give up, we will press on with this," said deputy party chairman Rustam Faiziev.


Taraqqiyot is not a powerful opposition force comparable to the Communist Party, the Democratic Party and the Islamic Revival Party, IRP. Its real problem may be less to do with technicalities than with the fact that it is led by a prominent figure, Sulton Quvvatov.


Quvvatov was once a staunch supporter of President Imomali Rahmonov. Like many in the government, they both hail from the southern region of Kulyab. Quvvatov, a career police officer, served as head of the tax committee in the mid-Nineties, and in 1997 his tax police helped defend Rahmonov's government against an army rebellion. Despite this, he was sacked the following year.


In 1999 he tried to stand against Rahmonov in a presidential election, but was barred from doing so.


His party has been pushing for official registration for three years, and shortly before it was finally refused on March 29, it sent an open letter to the justice ministry complaining that "a simple registration procedure has become an instrument of state politics, and is being used as a moral and psychological device to obstruct potential opponents in advance of the elections".


Without official status, Taraqqiyot has no legal rights. When Dushanbe city authorities refused a recent request for permission to hold a meeting, the party had no right to appeal against it.


As next February's election draws closer, the registration issue is becoming ever more pressing. Although the civil war which devastated the Tajik economy ended in 1997, few people have seen much improvement in their living standards since then. Economic issues are expected to be high on the agenda in the election campaign, and could boost the appeal of parties like Taraqqiyot, which has been sharply critical of government policies.


Taraqqiyot is not the only opposition party to have faced problems registering. The Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan, SDPT, was eventually registered last year after a two-year wait.


There are now six opposition parties, and analysts in Dushanbe agree that an electoral coalition is the best way for them to present a credible challenge to the government's People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan, PDPT. Working together would also give the opposition a chance to coordinate monitoring of the electoral process.


To that end, the Democratic Party, the Socialist Party, SDPT, and the IRP are in the process of forming a broad-based coalition. The other big opposition party, the Communists, have agreed to participate as an observer in the early stages.


But many believe that flaws in the current election legislation mean that even a large coalition will find it hard to win a significant number of seats in parliament.


SDPT deputy chairman Shokirjon Hakimov told IWPR that the many gaps in the law will leave the way open for unfair elections. Election commissions are entirely dependent on the government, there are no rules on party funding, and the media is not legally bound to give candidates equal coverage, he warned. Nor are independent observers guaranteed to attend polling stations, and there isn't a proper mechanism for candidates to complain about the vote count or about being disbarred from standing.


Opposition parties have drafted new election legislation with assistance from the local office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, but Hakimov said the PDPT-dominated parliament refused to discuss it, or two earlier proposals that were put before them in February.


In the end, impetus for electoral reform may come from outside. The continuing economic crisis leaves the government heavily reliant on western assistance, and donors are asking for change.


SDPT chairman Rahmatullo Zoirov recently told journalists that he understood that the US State Department has advised the Tajik president that future financial aid will depend on democratic reforms, and changes to electoral legislation are a key component of that.


Nargis Zokirova is a correspondent with Vecherny Dushanbe newspaper


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