Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 206

Tajikistan is moving headlong toward a one-man presidential race, and President Imomali Rahmonov toward preprogrammed reelection on November 6. Rahmonov, the Supreme Court and the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) have failed in their joint efforts to dragoon the Islamic Rebirth Party’s candidate, Dovlat Usmon, back into the race. Usmon, the Economics and Foreign Trade Minister in the “coalition” government,” had been the standard bearer of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) in this election. That dual, paradoxical posture reflects the profound ambiguities of Tajikistan’s current political situation. The “opposition” is nominally a part of the government, but is being reduced to the role of a real opposition due to the “bogus” nature of the coalition in Dushanbe (see the Monitor, October 13).

Last month, presidentially controlled territorial authorities made it impossible for Usmon and two other presidential aspirants to collect the 145,000 voter signatures required for the official registration of each candidacy. The CEC then disqualified the three on the grounds that they did not have the required number. That abuse triggered international pressure on Rahmonov, who directed his Supreme Court to “request” the CEC to review that decision, and his CEC to register Usmon’s candidacy with only 85,000 signatures. By the time this was done, the electoral exercise had turned clearly farcical and Usmon withdrew. Yet his name remains on the ballot despite his repeated, public demands that it be removed. The CEC simply denies knowledge of those requests because Rahmonov is desperate to create the appearance of a competitive race.

The UTO and the three thwarted presidential challengers demand the postponement of the election and the summoning of a special session of parliament in order to set a new date and pass legislation which would ensure a fair electoral campaign. The opposition candidates particularly insist on freedom to contact voters in the countryside and access to state television.

Meanwhile, the joint government-opposition National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) has ceased to function since mid-October, when the UTO withdrew in protest over the government’s handling of the presidential campaign. The NRC is the forum in which thorny disagreements between government and opposition are thrashed out; it is therefore a more effective and more important forum than the coalition government in terms of implementing the political and military agreements which put an end to the civil war. The NRC’s unraveling is therefore more significant than the chronic dysfunctionality of the coalition government.

The situation with the presidential election has produced a split in the Contact Group of countries and international organizations which oversee the pacification processes in Tajikistan. The Contact Group’s single most influential member, Russia, supports Rahmonov’s actions and has joined him in urging the UTO and Usmon to play along with the presidential race. The United States and other Contact Group members, for their part, insist on the need for a genuinely pluralistic election.

A further divisive issue has developed in Jirgatal and Karategin, the areas in north-central Tajikistan where government control is nil, while the UTO retains a measure of influence. The Islamist rebels from Uzbekistan, who staged the incursion in Kyrgyzstan from August to October, are now located in those two areas of Tajikistan. They are said to number up to 1,000 fighters, accompanied by several hundred family members–women and children. The Tajik government and some former field commanders of the UTO are negotiating with the Uzbek rebel leader Juma Namangani, hoping to persuade him to take his followers to Afghanistan. The Tajik government and military lack the strength to attack the rebels. They also seem to lack the political will, fearing that many former fighters of the UTO would in that case desert government forces–into which they have recently been absorbed–and rush to support Namangani if he is attacked.

Dushanbe’s hesitation may provoke Uzbekistan into a unilateral military intervention. President Islam Karimov has more than once threatened such intervention. Yesterday Uzbek Defense Minister Colonel-General Hikmatulla Tursunov issued the most explicit threat of intervention yet. He underscored the need to “destroy the bandits” as a preventive measure, to preclude a possible resumption of the insurgents’ operations in the spring (Itar-Tass, Dushanbe Radio, Asia-Plus, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Mashhad), October 28-November 3; see the Monitor, September 18, October 19, 25).

The Monitor is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation. It is researched and written under the direction of senior analysts Jonas Bernstein, Vladimir Socor, Stephen Foye, and analysts Ilya Malyakin, Oleg Varfolomeyev and Ilias Bogatyrev. If you have any questions regarding the content of the Monitor, please contact the foundation. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at pubs@jamestown.org, by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4516 43rd Street NW, Washington DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of the Monitor is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation Site Maintenance by Johnny Flash Productions