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Tajikistan: Monitors Prepare For Parliamentary Elections

Upcoming parliamentary elections in Tajikistan look to be democratically contested, unlike the presidential election three months ago. RFE/RL corespondent Bruce Pannier reports that international monitors have reported few campaign violations, and say they will look closely at the vote count.

Prague, 10 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Tajikistan's upcoming elections to the lower house of parliament, or Majlisi Namoyandagon, will be the first since the civil war ended three years ago. So far, the campaign stands out among Central Asian elections as a truly contested race.

During the civil war, which lasted from 1992 to 1997, the supporters of President Imomali Rakhmonov fought against a coalition of opposition forces known as the United Tajik Opposition, or UTO. This month, the two sides are battling again -- but for ballots, not territory.

Both the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, signed onto the 1997 Tajik National Peace Accord as guarantors of the peace. Under that agreement, both organizations are required to observe the elections to parliament, just as they were bound to observe the election for president.

The UN has had an observer mission in Tajikistan for nearly six years. Ivo Petrov, head of the mission, says work is in progress to prepare for election day:

"The United Nations and the OSCE have a joint special mission in Khujand and Kurgan-Tyube to make contact with the election commissions there and see if they are meeting election standards."

Close monitoring is a clear necessity for the February 27 vote. Tajikistan's presidential election three months ago was a democratic disaster. Even though the UN and OSCE worked with election officials, the November election fell far short of expectations.

The chief reason for the failure was that all three of President Rakhmonov's opponents were barred from the race less than a month before the balloting. One of the three was finally approved as a candidate by the Central Elections Commission, but he publicly stated on the eve of the election that he was not running.

Rakhmonov ended up winning with 97 percent of the vote. Tajik officials had promised a free and democratic race -- as they are promising for this month's general elections -- but the embarrassing results spoke for themselves.

One person still not convinced that the parliamentary elections will be fair is United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri. He says more than international observers is needed. Nuri wants some of his own people, opposition supporters, at polling areas and in tabulation centers.

"If our representatives, our observers are at election polling areas and if they can normally monitor, all the problems will be solved and we are sure we can take a worthy place in the parliament of our country."

A few days ago, Nuri said he expects his Islamic Renaissance Party, one of the parties in the opposition bloc, to take one-third of the 63 seats in the lower house. But that will be difficult, since there are 108 candidates from six parties running for seats by party list and another 223 running as independents in single-mandate districts.

Tajik political analyst Samariddin Asolzoda says that the actual balloting, not the campaigning, is the most likely source of potential election violations. Asolzoda said: "Every one of our voters needs to have his ballot counted and not falsified or destroyed. In these elections, there may be problems due to ignorance [about how to cast a ballot] among voters -- especially the elderly -- or violations among those [voting by absentee ballot from] outside the country. It is also possible that one person may vote [illegally] for an entire family."

These kinds of violations are common not only in Tajikistan, but throughout Central Asia.

Many Tajik candidates say they fear widespread ballot falsification, especially because some election officials have expressed support for specific candidates or parties. Such practices were among the OSCE's complaints about various elections last year in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, as well as in Tajikistan.

Compared with Kyrgyzstan, which is holding its elections to parliament (Feb. 20) one week before Tajikistan, the Tajik parliamentary electoral process so far has gone well. In Kyrgyzstan, there are already complaints about unfair treatment toward opposition parties. And the same was true in the run-up to Kazakhstan's parliamentary elections in October.

In Tajikistan, by contrast, opposition parties and their members have only complained about possible violations based on prior experiences. In fact, the Tajik general elections offer a new prospect for the area: Anyone may win -- that is, as long that the campaign continues this way for the remaining two weeks.

(Salimjon Aioubov of the Tajik Service contributed to this report.)