Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Tajikistan

Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party On Life Support

IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri has vowed to turn the "shock of the election defeat into an opportunity to start changes, reforms, and renovations."
IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri has vowed to turn the "shock of the election defeat into an opportunity to start changes, reforms, and renovations."

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Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) has suffered a crushing election defeat, and it has only timing, autocratic rule, and itself to blame.

The IRPT garnered a mere 1.5 percent in Tajikistan's March 1 vote, leaving the country's second-largest party with no seats in parliament for the first time in 15 years.

As the party tries to pick up the pieces, pundits say its failure can be attributed to a number of factors.

Echoing widespread sentiment, Dushanbe-based political analyst Rashid Ghani says developments outside the country played a large role in the party's setback.

"The general anti-Islamic mood and the extensive media coverage of the [Islamic State group] atrocities in Mosul [Iraq] and elsewhere have had a crucial impact on Tajik society's opinion about an Islamic party," Ghani said.

The analyst added that the "chaos in the Middle East that unfolded following the Arab Spring was linked to Islamic groups," and helped shape negative opinions of Islamist politicians in Tajikistan.

IRPT supporters sort preelection leaflets at the party's headquarters in Dushanbe. In the end, the party garnered a mere 1.5 percent in Tajikistan's March 1 vote.
IRPT supporters sort preelection leaflets at the party's headquarters in Dushanbe. In the end, the party garnered a mere 1.5 percent in Tajikistan's March 1 vote.

Pressure and smear campaigns that the IRPT believes targeted both the party and its supporters also took a toll.

As part of what the IRPT calls a politically motivated campaign, several party members were arrested and local offices closed in the run-up to this week's elections. At least three regional heads of the party were detained on March 2, the day after the poll.

A series of damaging sex tapes that appeared on the Internet last year purported to show religious figures with links to the IRPT -- including a prominent female party member -- taking part in sex acts.

The party has said the tapes are evidence of a smear campaign, but authorities have denied any involvement and have also said the arrests of party members are not related to politics.

Analyst Ghani places part of the blame for the defeat on the IRPT itself, saying it failed to develop initiatives that would attract voters in recent years.

The IRPT's popularity soared in predominantly Muslim Tajikistan after it was officially registered under a 1997 power-sharing deal between the government and opposition. But the party struggled to carve out a niche for itself in a system in which the government maintains tight control over religious institutions.

In 2010, for example, the IRPT's Dushanbe mosque was closed and its effort to overturn an official ban on women-only mosques fell through.

Despite the party's recent difficulties, IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri maintains that the Renaissance Party can be revived, vowing to turn the "shock of the election defeat into an opportunity to start changes, reforms, and renovations."

In a postelection speech on March 2, Kabiri also addressed a widely circulating rumor that a ban on the Islamic party is imminent. 

Kabiri warned the authorities against making "hasty" decisions regarding the future of the Islamic party, and touted the benefits the IRPT can provide to Tajik society.

He said the party can help with serious threats posed by religious "extremists -- the Islamic State group, Al-Qaeda and other groups that came into existence as a result of failed policies." 

Earlier, he suggested the party's absence in the next parliament could damage the authorities' image.

Analyst Ghani concurs, saying that the presence of a vocal opposition Islamic party in parliament made Tajikistan stand out "as a multiparty state" in a region known for autocratic regimes.

The election left only the ruling People's Democratic Party along with pro-government groups  -- the Agrarian Party, the Economic Reforms Party, and the Socialist Party -- with seats in parliament.

The Communist Party -- known for its occasional, albeit soft, criticism of the government -- lost its two parliamentary seats. The Social Democrat Party, the only secular opposition force and vocal government critic, finished last in the election race.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this story

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