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Tajikistan: Opposition Faces Campaign Obstacles

In the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan, fierce campaigning has been under way for several weeks for the 27 February parliamentary vote. But to the south in Tajikistan -- which holds votes the same day -- the situation is considerably more subdued. Only six political parties are registered to participate in the Tajik ballot. And unlike Kyrgyzstan's simmering opposition movement, Tajik oppositionists are facing numerous difficulties -- while attracting little notice or interest. These groups seem likely to vanish from the political arena with little protest from the public.

Prague, 15 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- In less than two weeks, Tajikistan will hold parliamentary and local elections.

The People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDPT) and the Communist Party -- the country's dominant political groups -- are expected to do well.

In the country's last parliamentary elections, the two allied parties won 85 percent of the parliament seats between them, and took the majority of the local votes, as well.

Their dominance presents a daunting challenge for Tajikistan's opposition -- the Islamic Renaissance Party, the Socialist Party, the Democratic Party of Tajikistan (not to be confused with the PDPT) and the Social-Democratic Party.

And the parties say election authorities are determined to make their task even more difficult.

The four opposition groups accuse electoral officials of dragging out their registration procedures. Islamic Renaissance, for example, complained in January that of 23 candidates the party has tried to register in single-mandate districts, only eight had been registered.

Opposition supporters have also alleged that local officials are pressuring voters to back pro-government candidates from the two dominant parties.

All six parties at the start of February signed a so-called "gentlemen's agreement," pledging to steer clear of mudslinging and ensure the vote is free and fair. An independent monitoring center was created shortly afterward to observe conduct before and during the vote.

Latif Hadyazoda, who works at the monitoring center, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service today that he has received complaints that some ruling party candidates have been given government vehicles for use in campaigning -- a huge advantage in a mountainous country like Tajikistan.

"According to reports, candidates from the Communist Party in the Somoni district of Dushanbe, and candidates from the ruling [PDPT] party used government transportation when they meet voters," Hadyazoda said. "Officials have selected worthy candidates and allowed them to use state transportation during working hours to campaign."

The head of the Somoni district election commission, Abdurahmon Abdumannonov, said he is aware of the complaint but said he has yet to receive any details about which candidates, and which cars, are involved.

Opposition party members say they are having a difficult time even finding venues at which they can meet to plan party strategy.

"The party was suppose to have a meeting in [the northern city of] Khujand, at the Soghdsokhtmon factory," said Rahmatullo Zoirov, chairman of the Social-Democratic Party (SDP). "The two workers that rented us the hall got fired. The Central Election Commission said we didn't have the right to meet there."

Zoirov added that in Ishtarafshan, another city in northern Tajikistan, Mayor Juma Zokirov refused to allow the party to meet and told its members they'd be better off leaving SDP and joining the ruling PDPT instead.

Even once SDP eventually met in Ishtarafshan, the meeting's conclusions were nullified for alleged violations of protocol.

"At the conference of the Social-Democratic Party, the national hymn wasn't played," explained Mavlon Boitemirov, the chairman of the district election commission. "[The election commission] also asked to see the documents [they needed in order to hold a meeting]. We requested they hand over copies of the documents by February 3, but they didn't do it."

The SDP has argued that neither election laws nor political party laws require a party to play the national hymn or receive proper documentation before meeting.

SDP leader Zoirov also has claimed authorities and state media are attempting to link the current opposition parties with the Islamist political opposition during Tajikistan's five-year civil war -- despite the fact that, with the exception of Islamic Renaissance (IRP), all the opposition parties are secular.

Ubaidullo Faizulloyev, the head of the Sogd provincial branch of the IRP, has complained that authorities have taken unusually long to register his party's candidates, leaving several unregistered even as the campaign officially began.

The Democratic Party of Tajikistan is fielding four candidates, but the party's leader has been barred from participating after criminal charges were filed against him in December.

(Mirzo Salimov of RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report.)

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