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Tajikistan: Doubts Raised About Fairness Of Upcoming Election

Tajikistan holds elections to parliament next month, but so far it looks like an easy victory for the People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan led by President Imomali Rakhmonov. Most of the other parties have had problems getting all of their candidates registered and some parties -- both officially registered and not -- face the possibility of their leaders heading to jail. This is the second election since the end of the country's civil war, but it looks to be less free and fair than the previous poll. Much of what the opposition gained by signing a peace agreement looks set to be lost through elections.

Prague, 17 January 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Tajikistan's elections to parliament next month look set to be a one-party affair.

Six parties are registered to run in the 27 February poll, but only one -- President Imomali Rakhmonov People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDPT) -- has been able to easily register all its candidates.

Registration of candidates for the 22 seats available on the basis of party lists ended last week. Muhibullo Dodojonov, the head of the commission on elections and referendums, announced the number of registered candidates on 14 January.

"As of 14 January, the candidates from party lists were as follows: the Democratic Party has four candidates [registered]; the Communist Party, nine candidates; the People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan has 21; the Islamic Renaissance Party 15; the Socialist Party five, and the Social-Democratic Party seven," Dodojonov said.

The People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan, which controls 65 percent of the seats in parliament, seems poised for a clear victory. It is the largest party, boasting some 70,000 registered members. Only the Communist Party comes close with a declared 60,000 members.

The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan claims to have some 20,000 members and none of the other three parties registered to take part in the February elections -- the Social-Democratic Party, Socialist Party and Democratic Party -- has 10,000 members.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Democratic Party of Tajikistan. The party can trace its origins back to the last days of the Soviet Union, but despite its 15-year history it still counts only about 4,500 members.

Its leader, Mahmudruzi Iskandarov, was detained in Moscow last month at the request of Tajik authorities. Dodojonov pointed out that his registration was rejected because he has criminal charges pending against him.

Shortly after Iskandarov was detained in Moscow, Tajikistan's Prosecutor-General Bobojon Bobokhonov said the Democratic Party leader faces serious charges.

"On the 27th of August [2004], at one in the morning, the local Interior Ministry office and prosecutor's office in Tajikabad region came under gunfire attack," Bobokhonov said. "One police officer received injuries. The organizer of this terror attack was Mahmudruzi Iskandarov. He is the organizer of the terror attacks in Tajikabad."

Iskandarov's party claims his arrest was politically motivated and pre-planned. Rahmatullo Valiev is deputy leader of the party.

"Everything is clear," Valiev said. "Mr. Iskandarov was deprived of the right to run on the eve of elections and the aim was to prevent him [Iskandarov] from running in elections and also not to permit the Democratic Party to participate in elections. This was planned in advance."
The People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan, which controls 65 percent of the seats in parliament, seems poised for a clear victory.

The Democratic Party has said it will participate in the elections despite an earlier threat to boycott them over the disqualification of its leader.

Charges also surfaced last week against Sultan Kuvvatov, the leader of the unregistered Tarraqiyot (Development) Party.

Briefly a candidate for the presidency in 1999, Kuvvatov has tried unsuccessfully for the last three years to get his party registered for the parliamentary poll. But he now appears set to defend himself in court against allegations that he insulted the Tajik president and incited ethnic hatred.

The Islamic Renaissance Party has also complained about problems registering its candidates. Party leader Said Abdullo Nuri said at his party's congress that he believes these elections won't be any better than those held in 2000.

"Unfortunately, in practice, the law is not being observed and of course, there will be violations of the law," Nuri said. "I think that in these coming elections, compared to the last ones, the law will be observed more -- but all the same, there are doubts they [elections] will be transparent of fair."

After the peace agreement of 1997 that ended five years of civil war, many praised the Tajik government for giving 30 percent of government posts to opposition parties they had fought during the war.

Tajikistan also remains the only country in Central Asia where an Islamic party is officially registered.

But the upcoming poll seem bound to undo most of what was accomplished by the peace deal, as Central Asian expert Olivier Roy told RFE/RL.

"Apparently, the government is ready to lose its recently acquired legitimacy, at least in the eyes of the international community, just in order to ensure its power," Roy said. "It appears now that pluralism in Tajikistan was accepted by the government only as a way to get out of the civil war. Now that there is almost no risk of a renewal of the civil war, the government doesn't feel bound by its previous commitments to pluralism."

The Tajik government, aware of Georgia's "Rose Revolution" in 2003 and the more recent "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine, has made it clear that foreign interference will not be tolerated.

Election officials warned on 14 January that any candidate found to be receiving financial support from foreign organizations or individuals will be barred from taking part in the elections.

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

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