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Tajikistan: Tajik Voters To Decide New Parliament (Part 1)

Tajik voters go to the polls on 27 February to elect a new parliament. It's the second parliamentary vote since the country's devastating civil war in the 1990s -- and observers see the election as a gauge of the country's progress toward achieving security and democracy. Most analysts forecast victory for the ruling People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDPT), led by its chairman, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov. But many observers say this vote will be a marked improvement over the 2000 parliamentary vote, which was marred by flaws. [Also see Part 2 --> /featuresarticle/2005/02/14278ea8-9adb-4902-854d-9c32eb05047b.html , Part 3 --> /featuresarticle/2005/02/11cb2715-0e12-48fd-901b-10bb2be10306.html , and Part 4 --> /featuresarticle/2005/02/c98b7994-8381-4e55-9851-dd2e65a8b1a0.html of this series.]

Prague, 24 February 2005 (RFE/RL) - Slightly more than 3 million eligible voters can cast ballots for the parties, and 227 candidates registered to run for the 63 seats in Tajikistan's Majlisi Namoyandagon, the lower house of the national parliament.

Forty-one of these seats are being contested in single-mandate districts, and 22 seats will be divided among the parties receiving more than 5 percent of the vote.

The ruling PDPT currently controls 65 percent of the seats in parliament. That party is likely to do well again on 27 February and some, like Tajik political analyst Ibrahim Usmonov, say it is really the PDPT that will decide the outcome of the election.

"Everything will depend on how much the ruling People's Democratic Party allows other parties to get votes from the people," Usmonov said.

The six leading parties, at the start of the month, pledged to avoid mud-slinging and to run fair campaigns. That agreement has given rise to optimism this may be a relatively clean vote.

But Peter Eicher, the head of the observer mission in Tajikistan for the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, said there have been some problems. He pointed to the role of district election commissions -- known as DECs -- in shaping voters' perceptions.

"Campaign meetings seem to be set up primarily not by the candidates themselves but by [district election commissions] and while some of these have been conducted fairly, some of them have not been conducted very fairly. For example, in some districts where the [commission] sets up a meeting, instead of just having the candidate speak, the head of the local [administration] will also speak and he will tell voters to vote for [a certain] candidate," Eicher said.

Eicher said some of these DEC leaders are local officials who owe their jobs to the current government, calling into question their impartiality.

Izatullo Sodulloev of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) said PDPT candidates seem to enjoy other advantages from local officials.

"We see the open interference of local authorities and the election commission chairman in our district [in the capital Dushanbe]," Sodulloev said. "There, where the Islamic Renaissance Party, the Socialist Party, and the Democratic Party of Tajikistan have better chances, there are no meetings [with the electorate]. On the other hand, the chairman [of the district] personally drives candidates to the People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan meeting with the voters."

Another problem was the closure by the tax police of the last independent newspaper at the end of January.

U.S. ambassador to Tajikistan Richard Hoagland spoke about this at a recent news conference in Dushanbe.

"Democratic elections involve public participation, public information and everyone having access to multiple ideas," Hoagland said. "So we're a little concerned that several newspapers have not been published recently, but technically the preparations for the elections look good."

Few believe that even with these seeming advantages the PDPT will take all the seats in parliament.

The leader of Tajikistan's Communist Party Shodi Shobdolov said that could not happen.

"It is impossible that one party should have all the seats in parliament," Shobdolov said. "Even if the People's Democratic Party uses all the power of the state structure, there are other parties that have influence in the country."

The Communist Party currently has 20 percent of the seats in parliament, but analysts believe that is likely to go down.

The only other party with members now in parliament is the Islamic Party of Tajikistan, the only officially registered Islamic party not in Tajikistan. The IRP has 7.5 percent of the places in parliament.

Despite being an Islamic party, the IRP is not filled with supporters dressed in conservative Muslim clothing. Young members of the IRP dress in jeans as they campaign for candidates and the party has gone to great lengths to publicly advertise its women members and their prominent roles in the IRP, including as candidates in upcoming elections.

The IRP was the core of the coalition known as the United Tajik Opposition during the Tajik civil war. Registration of the party was a prerequisite to signing the 1997 peace deal that ended the war.

Hokimsho Muhabbat, a Tajik political analyst currently in Moscow, said the role the IRP played in the war and in making peace assures the party of some seats in the Majlisi Namoyandagon.

"Starting with the signing of the peace agreement until now, the government of Tajikistan has wanted to preserve the relationship with the Islamic Renaissance Party, which was the main force of the UTO," Muhabbat said. "And therefore the government will ensure there will be one or two from the Islamic Renaissance Party in parliament. As before, the parliament will have people from the Islamic Renaissance Party."

Preliminary results are due to be announced on the Monday after the vote, but in previous elections a second round of elections has been necessary to elect some deputies. A second round is scheduled for 13 March.

(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 our Central Asia webpage.]

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