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

Tajiks Suspicious of New Parties

Latest additions to the political scene dismissed as instruments of the Rahmonov government.
By Artem Fradchuk
Two new parties are artificial creations of the ruling regime formed to prove the country’s democratic credentials while crushing any real opposition, critics say.

The Agrarian Party of Tajikistan, APT, and the Party for Economic Reform of Tajikistan, PERT, were founded late last year and are both expected to field candidates in the November presidential election.

However, analysts are sceptical they will offer any opposition at all to President Imomali Rahmonov and his People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan, PDPT. “These are parties that will decide nothing and play no role in the political life of the country,” said Rahmon Ulmasov, a political scientist.

Speculation is rife that Rahmonov – who changed the constitution to allow himself to run for another term – created the parties to broaden electoral support and give the impression of a vibrant political scene in Tajikistan, in case real opposition parties refuse to participate in the November 6 poll.

“Many experts believe that Rakhmonov needs the newly-created parties to demonstrate pluralism and democratic freedoms in Tajikistan,” said Shokirdzhon Hakimov, deputy chairman of the opposition Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan, SDPT.

The SDPT has already complained of pressure from the government in the run up to the elections, and two of its members were jailed after the parliamentary elections in 2005, though one has since been released.

And it’s not just the SDPT that has been targeted. The opposition Democratic Party was left without a leader when Mahmadruzi Iskandarov was sentenced in early October to 23 years in prison on charges of terrorism and other crimes that supporters claim were politically motivated.

Meanwhile, another Rahmonov rival and possible presidential candidate, General Gafur Mirzoev, the former head of the Agency for Drug Control, is currently on trial on murder and weapons charges.

Hakimov says all this, coupled with several criminal prosecutions against journalists, have harmed Tajikistan’s worldwide reputation. “In order to soften the international reaction, the authorities have artificially created two political parties in an attempt to generate a positive view among the public in relation to the development of pluralism and multi-parties,” he said.

Rumours are already circulating that the APT will form a coalition with the PDPT. However, party leader Amir Karakulov told a press conference on January 5 that an alliance with the ruling party was not a foregone conclusion, insisting the APT could join the opposition if the government doesn’t heed its views on the development of the rural economy.

“We will study the positions of other parties, political forces and movements and if our positions and views match theirs, our charter allows for a merger with other political forces,” he said.

The APT, which claims to have 1,000 members from around the country, said it aims to protect the interests of rural people.

Both the SDPT and the Islamic Rebirth Party have said they’ll nominate presidential candidates, but most analysts agree they’ll offer little challenge to Rahmonov.

Economist Zokir Amirov says he sees “no worthy competitor to President Rahmonov”.

“In the last elections, the contenders standing against Rahmonov were people that I [didn’t know]. Today, I don’t know any names of people who would agree to compete as equals with Imomali Rahmonov. Maybe I would vote for an alternative candidate, but there is no such worthy person capable of decisive actions,” he told IWPR.

Political scientist Ulmasov agrees that the president has no serious rivals, at least none who can match his personality and leadership style. “I don’t see people who are able to lead popular masses using their authority,” he said.

Rashid Abdullo, also a political scientist, says all the leading Tajik politicans are members of the presidential team – with the exception of Islamic party leader Sayed Abdullo Nuri. However, he is too can be seen as a presidential ally.

SDPT leader Rahmatillo Zoirov – who said in November that his party would contest the elections - insists there are worthy candidates, but said most don’t have access to the resources at Rahmonov’s disposal. “The incumbent president has unlimited administrative and financial resources. And one can’t do anything about it,” said Zoyirov.

Most have little doubt, then, that Rahmonov will be returned to office in December. Abdullo suggests that although the public likes to criticise him “for everything from high prices to earthquakes”, many are in fact happy enough to re-elect him. “[Tajiks are] not looking forward to political experimentation in changing the country’s leader. Tajikistanis are quite satisfied with the incumbent president, because he can be credited with [some] accomplishments.”

Also crucial, Abdullo believes, is support for the president from leaders in Russia, the United States, China and Iran. “In such a situation, the victory of Rahmonov in the coming elections, if he decides to run, becomes clear enough,” he said.

Whatever happens in November, analysts doubt that Rahmonov can hang on to power forever, or that he will follow in the footsteps of Turkmen president Saparmurat Niazov in declaring himself president for life.

“The international community will not allow us to have the same situation as in Turkmenistan,” said Ulmasov.

Artem Fradchuk is an IWPR contributor in Dushanbe.