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Tajikistan: Former Opposition Planning To Renew Coalition

  • Bruce Pannier --> The United Tajik Opposition (UTO) was a principle player in Tajikistan during the 1992-1997 civil war. The grouping of Islamic and democratic forces disbanded not long after the 1997 peace agreement, but with elections to parliament due next February, some of the same groups that made up the UTO are planning to renew the coalition with an eye on seats in parliament.

Prague, 7 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A familiar coalition from Tajikistan's past appears set to return in time for elections.

The United Tajik Opposition (UTO) was the loose grouping of Islamic and democratic forces that fought the government during the 1992-1997 civil war.

The parties are preparing to unite again -- this time, with the sole purpose of defeating the ruling party of President Imomali Rakhmonov in the political arena, not on the battlefield.

"They separated like ships on a stormy sea, heading in different directions, because even inside these parties that were joining forces, there were people with different goals and purposes."
The Islamic Renaissance Party, the Social-Democrat Party, the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, and the Socialist Party are preparing to form a bloc ahead of next February's scheduled elections to parliament. The still unregistered Development Party is an observer in the bloc.

Amniyat Abdulazizov is the deputy chairman of the Social Democrat Party, which claims to have come up with the idea for the new bloc. Abdulazizov told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that all that remains is for the group to sign a few papers -- and officially enter the election race: "We are all agreed. All that remains is signing [the bloc formation agreement]. All sides agree, they will all have equal rights and there will be a rotating chairman."

The Islamic Renaissance Party and the Democratic Party of Tajikistan formed the core of the UTO in the early 1990s, along with smaller groups that have largely faded from Tajikistan's political scene.

The 1997 peace accord officially gave them 30 percent of the seats in the government and places in the National Reconciliation Council, the body tasked with writing a new constitution.

But the government was slow to hand over all the seats, and in the end, the UTO enjoyed 30-percent representation for just several months before fresh elections were held. Moreover, most of those seats were claimed by the Islamic Renaissance Party, in a move that spurred the dissolution of the UTO.

Tajik independent political analyst Nurali Davlatov said the same situation could occur again: "As they say, water in the river does not flow over the same rock twice. They want to test what they already did in 1992. Then, the coalition was their salvation from repression. But history showed that at the first opportunity, when they created the National Reconciliation Council, they separated like ships on a stormy sea, heading in different directions, because even inside these parties that were joining forces, there were people with different goals and purposes. The same could happen again."

The potential for division may be heightened by the fact that one of the members of the new bloc, the Socialist Party, was formed by Safarali Kenjayev, an extremely powerful figure during the civil war. Kenjayev, insofar as it suited his personal interests, was a supporter of Rakhmonov's government in the effort against the UTO.

He was assassinated in March 1999, outside his home in Dushanbe. Both the Islamic Renaissance Party and the Democratic Party had representatives in the short-lived People's Majlis in the spring of 1992. Both were outlawed by the Supreme Court in June 1993, and then fought a guerrilla war in the Tajik mountains, retreating to and returning from bases in northern Afghanistan.

At least 60,000 people were killed during the war. Some estimates go over 100,000.

Tajik Communist Party leader Shodi Shabdolov, who has stressed his party will not join the bloc, said with such a history the new UTO bloc should make its political purposes very clear: "If the bloc is formed for elections, they should say it is for elections. Just elections, and nothing else. They should say it openly. We will not join and have no intention of forming any coalition. Their ideology and our ideology are different."

The Communist Party, which took 20 percent of the seats in the 2000 parliamentary elections, supported Rakhmonov in the 1999 presidential elections.

Rakhmonov's People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan, which took 65 percent of the seats in the 2000 parliamentary vote, is Tajikistan's biggest party, with 70,000 members.

The opposition has apparently decided that joining forces is the best way to contend with the powerful People's Democratic and Communist parties.

But the deputy chairman of the Islamic Renaissance Party, Muhiddin Kabiri, says he remains hopeful the Communists may eventually join the bloc: "The Islamic Renaissance Party, in the common interest -- including some of the party's own interests and those of its leadership -- took the decision to enter the coalition because it is not a political coalition, but a technical coalition. And the goal of forming such a coalition is not the formation of a bloc against a party or group. The goal is to [ensure] free and transparent elections are conducted. I hope the Communist Party, even the leadership of the People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan could join the party. Why not?"

The Islamic Renaissance Party, with its 7.5-percent share in parliament, represents the only party besides Rakhmonov's and the Communists to receive more than 5 percent of the vote in the 2000 parliamentary elections.

Uniting militarily once granted the UTO, albeit briefly, 30 percent of the seats in government. Uniting for purely political reasons could make them a force in the Tajik legislature again.

(Soljida Djakhfarova and Mirzo Salimov of the Tajik Service contributed to this report.)