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Tajikistan: Political Parties Set To Campaign

By Abbas Djavadi and Bruce Pannier

Tajikistan's governing political party demonstrated its ability to maneuver election results its way in a referendum and a presidential election last fall. With next month's parliamentary elections drawing near, the party of President Imomali Rakhmonov is using those tactics again. The director of RFE/RL's Tajik Service and correspondent Bruce Pannier analyze the outlook.

Prague, 7 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov's ruling People's Democratic Party almost certainly is headed for another triumph in next month's parliamentary elections.

RFE/RL and news agency correspondents in Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe, say Tajikistan's Communist Party remains influential but seems destined for the role of lead tenor in a chorus of minority parties. Another party, the Islamic Renaissance Party, seems in line to win only a few places in the parliamentary choir.

If this generally accepted prediction comes true, President Rakhmonov will control Tajikistan's branches of power for seven more years without a major challenge.

In 1997, the government and the mainly Islamic opposition reached an accord ending a five-year civil war. The two sides agreed on a set of proposals to amend the constitution.

Tajik officialdom held a referendum last September to create a bicameral parliament, to legalize previously prohibited opposition parties and to extend the term of the presidency from five to seven years.

In the days leading up to the referendum, the government mobilized the state apparatus and media to support the changes. The Islamic opposition quietly approved. Opponents effectively were silenced. Without debate or discussion, it seems evident that only the most sophisticated voters could have been aware of the implications of what they voted for. An incredible 98 percent of the voters approved the amendments.

A presidential election followed a month-and-a-half later. Election officials denied registration to four of the six candidates who came forward. The officials registered the fifth candidate -- Davlat Usmon of the Islamic Renaissance Party -- just a few days before the vote.

Usmon publicly declined to run, protesting against what he called campaign restrictions and government manipulation.

Despite his protests, voters on election day found his name on the ballots next to that of Rakhmonov.

The authorities expressed satisfaction with the semblance of democracy presented by having an opposition candidate, a satisfaction undimmed by the lopsided 97 percent electoral triumph that followed.

So it is not difficult to see why Tajik and international correspondents expect a clear victory for Rakhmonov's party on February 27.

The new bicameral Tajik parliament will comprise a lower house -- the Majlisi Namoyandagon -- and an upper house -- the Majlisi Milli. February's voters will choose 63 deputies to serve in the lower house as full-time professional legislators. Twenty-two will come from party lists, and the remaining 41 from single-mandate votes.

Six parties have registered to run: the People's Democratic Party, the Communist Party, the Islamic Renaissance Party, and the less well-known Democratic Party, Socialist Party, and Justice Party.

The People's Democratic Party formed itself last year with the evidently single goal of keeping party chairman Rakhmonov and his circle in power.

The Communist Party is an ardent supporter of the armed and political forces that ousted a coalition government of democratic and Islamic groups in 1992 and brought Rakhmonov to power. During the last few years, the party has lost much of its influence to the ruling establishment, but has managed to preserve a great deal of its organizational structure.

The Socialist Party was part of the group that brought Rakhmonov to power. It later lost the government's confidence. After the assassination last spring of its leader, Safarali Kenjaev, the party has become marginal.

The Islamic Renaissance Party, led by Said Abdullo Nuri, fought the government during the civil war but then signed the 1997 peace accord. That agreement and the realty of participating in the government set off factional confrontations within the party. The party often has repeated its commitment to the principles of a democratic state, but many people doubt that it has renounced its ultimate goal of building an Islamic state.

The Democratic Party has been a junior partner of the Islamic Renaissance Party, though not Islamic in its nature or program. After the outbreak of civil war in 1992, the party split and the faction now representing the party joined the Islamic Renaissance Party in arms against the government. For political purposes, the party recently withdrew from its partnership with the Islamists. Having split into factions, the party now is weak.

The centrist Justice Party failed to register a candidate for the presidential elections. It says that a rule of law is its first priority. Some intellectuals support it.

The opposition parties, unclear in their programs and fragmented, seem more concerned about gaining power than advancing any coherent programs.

By contrast, the People's Democratic Party seems focused and clear as to its purpose. In addition, the other parties must leap hurdles merely to register and campaign.

The president's control over the upper house already is assured. He directly appoints eight of the 33 deputies, and regional bodies whose members he selects appoint the rest.