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Tajikistan: Elections Should See Big Improvement Over 2000 Vote (Part 2)

  • Bruce Pannier

http://gdb.rferl.org/B3115D5F-A199-4214-8FBD-14BA89607526_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/B3115D5F-A199-4214-8FBD-14BA89607526_mw800_mh600.jpg Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov (file photo) Tajikistan holds parliamentary elections on 27 February, and in the weeks leading up to the poll opposition parties have registered many complaints about undue government interference in the vote. But the election news out of Tajikistan is far from being all bad. Observers say Tajikistan is maturing politically and that if this week's elections fall short of being free and fair, there are at least signs the groundwork is being laid for better elections in the future.

Prague, 24 February 2005 (RFE/RL) - The ruling party -- the People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDPT) -- is all but assured of retaining a majority in parliament in the upcoming vote.

But this does not mean there has not been significant improvement from the last parliamentary elections in 2000.

"The situation in Tajikistan in 2005 differs greatly from the situation in 2000," said Jan Malikzoda, who has been observing election conditions in Tajikistan for the United Nations. "There have been many changes -- political, economic, and social. In the country and in districts, preparations for elections have been much better because security is better. Tajikistan has passed through the post-war period. Security is provided in all corners of the country."

The 2000 elections were generally viewed to be a failure, coming relatively soon after the end of the country's five-year civil war. The vote was marred by security concerns and the strong influence of the ruling party.
Each of the six main parties is represented within the district election commissions, which are responsible for running the polls and collecting and counting the results. But it's unclear how impartial the commissions will be, since the heads of these groups often owe their jobs to the government.


Abdugany Mamadazimov, the chairman of Tajikistan's Association of Political Analysts, said international organizations like the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had worked hard to improve conditions for a fairer vote -- especially by working more closely at the local level.

"These organizations did everything to get the representatives of all 40 districts and conduct seminars on all procedures for better preparations and for holding [better] elections," Mamadazimov said.

Each of the six main parties is represented within the district election commissions, which are responsible for running the polls and collecting and counting the results. But it's unclear how impartial the commissions will be, since the heads of these groups often owe their jobs to the government.

Davlatali Davlatov, the deputy chairman of the ruling PDPT, insisted that the commissions were impartial, pointing out that many different groups were involved with them.

"According to the law on elections, the work of a commission is monitored by people from political parties, international observers, representatives of the press, and representatives of every candidate and party," Davlatov said.

But Rahmatullo Zoirov, the chairman of the Social Democratic Party, said the ruling party potentially had an unfair advantage by forming the structure of the commissions.

"According to the law, interference by the state structure in elections is forbidden," Zoirov said. "But then, according to the same law, the structure of district election commissions is formed by the chairman of the district of city."

Lola Kholiqjonova, who works in the country's central election commission, said she believed the authorities were doing a good job of running the election so far and responding to complaints.

Kholiqjonova said in 2000, reviews of complaints from opposition parties were regularly put off for days.

"I see that there are complaints coming in to the [central election] commission, but in any case I know that every complaint is reviewed and that decisions are made about these complaints," Kholiqjonova said.

Improvements since 2000 give those like Zafaro Rahimova, a female candidate from the Islamic Renaissance Party, hope that they can compete and win in these elections.

"I think my participation will be a good political experience and will give me a better chance in the future," Rahimova said. "But I see how people welcome me [when I campaign], so I think I'll win."

Criticism of the 27 February elections, and the second round scheduled for 13 March, seem unavoidable, but some praise for better elections this time compared to 2000 seem in order. Such positive aspects of the campaigning and election process could bring what Tajik government officials have long been promising: free and fair elections.

(Salimjon Aioubov of the Tajik Service contributed to this report.)

[For more on the elections in Tajikistan, see our dedicated Tajikistan Votes 2005 webpage. For more on the region, see RFE/RL's Central Asia webpage.]
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