The February 28 election to Tajikistan’s lower house of parliament predictably ended in a landslide victory for the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDPT), headed by President Emomali Rakhmon. With 43 elected party members and 12 nominally independent candidates that had been fielded and supported by the party, the PDPT has extended its control of the 63-seat parliament for another five years. The remaining eight seats went to the Agrarian Party (APT), Communist Party (CPT), Islamic Revival Party (IRPT) and the Party of Economic Reforms (PERT) which will be represented in the parliament with two seats each. Another three parties – the Democratic Party (DPT), Social-Democratic Party (SDPT) and Socialist Party (SPT) – failed to pass the electoral threshold.
International observers and opposition parties have accused the authorities of widespread fraud. The election monitoring arm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the polls failed to meet many key international standards for democratic elections. The election watchdog’s sizeable team of observers reported “serious irregularities”, including massive family and proxy voting, ballot stuffing, voting without proper identification, media bias in favor of the ruling party, and most notably flawed vote counting and tabulation processes. A statement from the United States embassy in Dushanbe noted similar irregularities observed by its staff present at various polling stations.
Major Tajik opposition parties, including the CPT, DPT, IRPT and SDPT, called the ballot unfair and undemocratic and promised to file complaints, although all previous attempts to challenge fraudulent election results through the Tajik legal system have been unsuccessful. The Islamic Revival Party – Central Asia’s only official Islamic party and Tajikistan’s main opposition movement – said the party was robbed of its rightful share of the vote. Speaking to journalists on March 3, the IRPT leader Mukhiddin Kabiri said the party would stage street protests and hunger strikes if Tajik courts fail to properly consider complaints filed by the party’s activists. Addressing a news conference on the day after Kabiri’s statement, Sayfullo Safarov, deputy director of the government-run Strategic Research Center, said such threats endangered security in Tajikistan.
The IRPT’s disappointment with ballot results could well be anticipated given the massive efforts and resources the party had invested in image building and voter outreach since the last election. Independent observers agree that the IRPT was the most visible party throughout an otherwise passive election campaign. Many analysts predicted that the party would do much better at the polls than just retaining the two seats it had held in the outgoing parliament. Mukhiddin Kabiri argues that the IRPT won around 30 percent of the vote through party list voting, but the final ballot results were falsified in favor of the ruling party. Despite strong frustration with the election, the IRPT decided to participate in the work of the new parliament in a move aimed at maintaining “peace and stability in Tajikistan”, according to Kabiri.
The Communist Party which has lost one of the three seats it held in the outgoing parliament also voiced a rare harsh criticism of the election. Speaking to journalists shortly after the results were announced, CPT leader Shodi Shabdolov called the ballot a “parody” and claimed widespread fraud had been committed by the electoral authorities.
The two youngest Tajik political parties that will be represented in the new parliament, the Agrarian Party and Party of Economic Reforms, have little reason to complain about the ballot results. For both, it was their first parliamentary election, and their success has been widely regarded as a manipulation by the Tajik authorities to create an appearance of a pluralist and democratic system. Tajik political analyst Parviz Mullojonov believes that the APT and PERT are “essentially two branches of the ruling party”.
Facing such criticism, the Tajik election authorities and the ruling party leaders deflected claims of vote fraud that might deprive the election of legitimacy. The head of Tajikistan’s Central Commission for Elections and Referenda (CCER) Mirzoali Boltuev said there were only minor violations to the poll which did not affect the election outcome. PDPT deputy leader Safar Safarov dismissed the OSCE’s claims of massive irregularities, suggesting that observers deployed by the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as well as the ruling party’s own observers did not identify significant violations.
In an effort to prevent further alienation of opposition parties, President Emomali Rakhmon urged representatives of different parties to put aside political disagreements and join efforts in addressing major issues facing the country. Addressing the first session of the new parliament on 16 March, the Tajik leader said he had instructed his executive office to carefully review the opposition parties’ election programs and use their strongest components in developing government strategies and policy documents.
By Alexander Sodiqov (03/18/2010 issue of the CACI Analyst)