Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Tajikistan after the Elections: Post-Soviet Dictatorship

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Tajikistan after the Elections: Post-Soviet Dictatorship

Article excerpt

Tajikistan After the Elections: Post-Soviet Dictatorship

By Walter White

Late in 1994 and again in early 1995, Tajikistan held its first ever elections since becoming a republic. It's not yet clear whether they mark a small beginning toward democracy for this troubled Central Asian nation, or merely set a precedent for more completely predictable elections in the Third World pattern.

A remote mountainous state of about 5.7 million people, Tajikistan shares a 600-mile border with Afghanistan and has similar clan-based politics. The country is trying to recover from a devastating 1992 civil war which pitted a coalition dominated by Tajiks from the southern Kulyab region against a loosely organized nationalist-Islamic revival group. Tajikistan was the poorest republic in the former Soviet Union, and is poorer now than it was then.

Parliamentary elections to the 181-seat Majlis Ali (high assembly), until a few months ago known as the Supreme Soviet, were held Feb. 26. These elections were preceded in November by presidential elections. Although outwardly correct in form and appearance, both contests reportedly were marked by widespread fraud, stuffing or even substitution of ballot boxes, voter intimidation, and other manipulations.

In the parliamentary elections, despite the Tajik government's public promise of a multi-party, democratic contest, the government's electoral commission denied large numbers of aspiring candidates permission to participate, usually on shaky legal grounds. The most celebrated disqualification of a parliamentary candidate was that of Abdulmalik Abdullajonov, who had been defeated in the November 1994 presidential elections.

Such arbitrary disqualifications resulted in many seats being uncontested. The government claimed this was true of only five percent of the seats, but other sources estimated the figure at 40 percent. The Tajik government's claim that these were multi-party elections, therefore, is questionable. Of 181 seats filled, the four officially registered opposition parties elected five, three, two and one deputies, respectively. In addition, voter turnout for the parliamentary elections appeared sparse, although the government claimed 85 percent participation.

Earlier, in the November presidential elections, Emomili Rahmonov, head of the coalition of Kulyabi Tajiks who had won the civil war and who afterwards was appointed Supreme Soviet Chairman and Head of State, was declared the winner with 58 percent of the vote. This figure was disputed by many observers, who suspected vote rigging. The same observers had predicted the election of Rahmonov's opponent, Abdulmalik Abdullajonov, a former prime minister. Abdullajonov is from Kojand, in the northern industrial district of Leninabad.

Regional groupings--Kulyabis, Pamiris, Garmis, and those from the Leninabad area--are politically important in this over-whelmingly ethnic Tajik country. Members of the Uzbek minority make up fewer than 25 percent of the population and have little influence.

Arbitrary disqualifications resulted in many seats being uncontested.

Independent observers viewed the elections as staged events to reinforce Rahmonov's power. Nearly all of those now in charge are ex-communists, many of whom ran Tajikistan before the breakup of the Soviet Union. Despite lip service to democratic processes, therefore, Tajikistan is today a de facto dictatorship.

The trampling of human rights in the election process did not go unnoticed. The European Union (EU) and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) followed the process closely, and various Tajikis who were prospective candidates lodged complaints about unfair practices. The OSCE seconded a number of these complaints and forwarded them to the Tajik government, without any discernable results.

Some suggestions by OSCE, however, particularly on provisions in the election law which was drawn up last November to regulate the parliamentary contest, were incorporated, at least in part, by the Tajik authorities. …

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