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Tajikistan: After Ruling Party Victory, What Next?

  • Bruce Pannier

With votes still being counted from parliamentary elections on 27 February, Tajikistan's ruling People's Democratic Party is already celebrating victory. The party is led by President Imomali Rakhmonov. When Rakhmonov cast his vote, he all but announced his intention to run for president next year. Now that his party is set to increase its majority in parliament, it seems he will face few obstacles. RFE/RL looks at what the recent election means for Tajikistan and hopes that the country is advancing toward a more democratic form of government.

Prague, 1 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The ruling People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDPT) notched a convincing election victory on 27 February.

The latest figures show the party took about 75 percent of the vote, giving it around 49 out of the 63 seats in the lower house of parliament -- according to the head of the Central Election Commission.

The pro-government Communist Party took three seats, while the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party won two. Independent candidates won six seats and the three remaining seats are to be decided in a run-off.

Observers ahead of the vote were hoping the election would mark a positive step in the country's political development, but that's not clear. The losing parties have accused the authorities of intimidating voters and stuffing ballot boxes.
"It creates an interesting situation and it creates, I believe, a dilemma to the regime because it has to respond in one way or another. Either it has to listen to these complaints and it has to do something about it, and seriously do something about it, or it has to just disregard it and claim the elections were fair and correct."


The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which sent about 150 observers, said the vote was flawed and that officials controlled the campaign and interfered with independent media.

The question now is -- with the results in -- where will Rakhmonov and his party take Tajikistan in the coming years?

Professor Lena Jonson is a senior research fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs in Stockholm. She said she believes the result will mean little real change since the poll simply maintained the current division of power. "No, I can't see that anything would change since the regime, and the president are in command as previously," Jonson said.

One indicator of progress, Jonson said, could be in how the government deals with the complaints by the Communists and the Islamic Renaissance Party. Both parties along with two other opposition parties have signed petitions demanding the poll results in the Tajik capital Dushanbe be declared invalid.

In addition, some among the opposition are already appealing to the country's Supreme Court to overturn results in some districts.

The reaction of the government to these complaints, Jonson argued, will give a good indication of its commitment to democratic reform. "It creates an interesting situation and it creates, I believe, a dilemma to the regime because it has to respond in one way or another," Jonson said. "Either it has to listen to these complaints and it has to do something about it, and seriously do something about it, or it has to just disregard it and claim the elections were fair and correct."

Use of the legal system to resolve controversial election results represents a sign the opposition is willing to challenge the government in court rather than in other, extra-legal ways. For many this in itself is a hopeful sign.

Observers say an improvement in the security situation from the previous 2000 election was also encouraging. The security situation in 2000, less than three years after the end of the civil war, prevented many people from getting involved and animosities left over from the war were visible in verbal exchanges during the that election.

Jonson noted this had changed in the recent election. "There is a development in the direction of democratic culture and democratization of the country," she said, "and I think that the very existence of the Islamic Revival Party and the fact that the Social-Democratic Party was registered are important steps in that direction. The way that the opposition and the party leaders carry out the political debate and their demands and their efforts to become a constructive opposition, that is a very good sign for the future."

Six parties contested the 63 seats in parliament, with 41 lawmakers being chosen directly and the other 22 seats divided among the three parties that won at least five percent of the vote.
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