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A Pyrrhic Victory In Tajik Parliamentary Elections

Muslim men pray at a mosque in the Tajik village of Nurabad on the holy day of Eid al-Adha.
Muslim men pray at a mosque in the Tajik village of Nurabad on the holy day of Eid al-Adha.

Preliminary results in the latest rigged parliamentary elections in Tajikistan show the ruling People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan won another overwhelming victory.

But more importantly for the future, it was a defeat for the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and the unofficial end of the power-sharing deal that was part of the Tajik Peace Accord of June 1997. And that raises questions about the future of Islam in politics not only in Tajikistan but in all the former Soviet republics that now make up Central Asia.

That Islam will play a role in the politics of Central Asia is undeniable, and the 1997 peace agreement in Tajikistan was an experiment that proved to some extent that Islam could have a political role in a secular state.

Under that agreement the United Tajik Opposition, an interesting mixture of the IRPT, and democratic and nationalist groups, received 30 percent of the positions in government at all levels, from local to ministerial.

The IRPT became and remains the only Islamic party registered in all of Central Asia.

The formation of such a government was a complicated and tense process, but it took root; and by the time the Taliban was chased from power in neighboring Afghanistan in late 2001, there were some who suggested the Tajik model of government might well suit Afghanistan.

For the Muslims of Tajikistan, and to some extent the rest of Central Asia, who were pious but interested in politics, it was a perceived opportunity for an Islamic point of view to find a legitimate place in governance.

The Muslims who fought with weapons in hand during the civil war were able to shift their efforts to battles in local and regional councils and parliament.

People such as Said Abdullo Nuri, the original IRPT leader, his deputy Hoja Akbar Turajonzoda, and the capable wartime field commander Mirzo Ziyoyev all found places in the government. And they were far more "radical" than the current IRPT leadership.

The idea never really caught on in neighboring Central Asian states. The current state of Uzbek-Tajik ties really dates back to the Tajik peace deal, since Uzbek President Islam Karimov was absolutely against the Tajik government allowing the IRPT to share power and furious when the peace agreement was signed.

But the Tajik government of former military adversaries, Islamic and secular, was able to work together and pull the country out of the catastrophic situation the country was in when the war ended. Tajikistan is not a rich country, it probably never will be, but it is stable and has been for more than a decade and a half.

That stability is now at risk -- for no good reason, really. The IRPT had two of the 63 seats in parliament prior to the March 1 elections, nowhere near enough to influence the country's politics, but at least the party was represented in parliament.

And having two seats preserved the IRPT's hope that it could win more seats in future elections despite the many obstacles the party has faced and seem to suddenly face every time there are elections. Current IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri told me one week ago that he thought his party could win five seats in these latest elections.

The IRPT is the second-largest party in Tajikistan, so Kabiri's prediction was plausible even knowing the deck might be stacked against him, so to speak.

Now the IRPT has no place in government; and for the roughly 44,000 registered members of the party and the many thousands more who support the IRPT, many under 30 years old, this is going to be a problem.

Analysts have warned for years that by driving the opposition, both secular and religious, underground, Central Asian governments were creating radicalized groups.

The lack of any voice whatsoever for the IRPT in government, after 18 years, is likely to come back to haunt the Tajik government one day.

-- Bruce Pannier; Salimjon Aioubov and Tohir Safarov of RFE/RL's Tajik contributed to this report

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.​

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.


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