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Tajikistan: Parties Discuss This Weekend's Elections

Tajikistan's parliamentary elections this Sunday will be the first since the end of the civil war. RFE/RL's Tajik Service invited all six political parties competing to a round-table in Dushanbe this week to discuss the issues. Correspondent Bruce Pannier reports on the discussion.

Prague, 25 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Sunday is the biggest day for Tajikistan since the signing of the peace accord that ended the civil war in 1997.

The parliamentary elections that take place that day are the final step in the implementation of the peace accord, which envisioned first a power-sharing government of the two sides, and finally open, multiparty elections to a new parliament.

In what may be the first event of its kind in Central Asia, RFE/RL's Tajik Service held a roundtable discussion in the Tajik capital Dushanbe on Thursday. Representatives attended from all six of the parties competing on Sunday -- the People's Democratic Party (PDP), Communist Party, Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), Democratic Party, Socialist Party, and Justice Party.

The election campaign has already been notable for the relative lack of major complaints of procedural violations. This is likely due to the presence of observers from the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, both of which have been operating in the country since the civil war. The two organizations have been monitoring all facets of the election process.

Still, complaints are not entirely absent. At RFE/RL's roundtable, opposition representatives said the ruling People's Democratic Party, or PDP, has had undue influence on the electoral process.

The deputy chairman of the Democratic Party, Asliddin Sohibnazarov, said all regions of Tajikistan are under the control of the ruling party. Sohibnazarov said that all the regional and local heads are members of the PDP and that the state-run media have favored ruling party candidates.

Sayidumar Husainov, head of the Islamic Renaissance Party, hinted that his party feels the same. He said his party would take 70 percent of the seats available, but only, "provided the elections are free and fair."

Saifullo Safarov, deputy chairman of the PDP, said his party could not influence the outcome of elections because, he said, power in the country has been distributed to other parties.

The Communist Party is expected to do well on Sunday, though not as well as the favored PDP. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, now head of the PDP, is a former Communist, and some Tajik observers have said the two parties are working together. Karamatullo Alimov, deputy chairman of the Communist Party, denied that.

"You said that other parties, including the Communist Party, are satellites of the ruling party. I cannot agree with this, because the Communist Party is independent. The distinguishing aspect of our program is that our party wants to restore all the positive aspects of the Soviet era."

Abdusator Asrarov, the deputy chairman of the Justice Party, said voter dissatisfaction with the economy will ensure that the ruling party does not maintain its dominance.

"I think [the PDP] will not win a lot of votes, because prices at the market are rocketing up while wages and pensions increase at a turtle's pace."

Tajikistan's constitution gives most power to the presidency. The politicians were asked how, given that fact, they saw the role of parliament.

Kurbon Vosiev, acting chairman of the Socialist Party, said if the elections are free and fair, the parliament will be strong and will control the government through good legislation.

Sohibnazarov of the Democratic Party said dominance of the parliament by one party represents a serious danger to the country.

Alimov of the Communist Party said even a strong parliament could not be expected to solve all the country's problems.

In an encouraging sign, nearly all the participants agreed some progress toward democracy has been achieved. Most pointed to the round table they were attending as proof that there has been change. But all agreed that much more remains to be done. Justice Party deputy chairman Asrarov was the most pessimistic.

"I can say that the process has only the smell of democracy, not democracy itself."

Complaints about electoral processes are likely to surface after the vote. The election is being monitored by not only the OSCE and the UN mission in Tajikistan, but also by hundreds of foreign observers.

(Abbas Djavadi and Soldjida Djakhfarova of the Tajik Service contributed to this report.)