With the presidential election campaign officially opened, Tajikistan’s major opposition parties are refusing to participate in the November 6 vote. To date, incumbent Tajik President Emomali Rahmonov is the only candidate likely to receive a majority of votes. The remaining four candidates are extremely weak and will probably not even be able to collect the 160,000 signatures necessary to register with the Central Elections Commission (CEC).
The Communist, Agrarian, and Socialist parties and the Party of Economic Reforms have announced their own candidates. Most of Rahmonov’s competitors are academics, not known to the general public. The two strongest opposition parties, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), have officially refused to participate in the elections.
According to one representative from the IRP, parliamentary and presidential elections are important processes for the party’s current and future functioning. Although previously the IRP has tried to put forward its own candidates to promote the party’s young, aspiring leaders, this time it declined to do so. The IRP’s boycott of the elections is an emphatic statement against Rahmonov’s regime. It deprives Rahmonov of a veneer of political pluralism that is necessary for the elections to seem somewhat democratic. It would be unlikely for the IRP to win the elections, but the party could have considerably reduced Rahmonov’s support.
The SDP was more blunt when it came to justifying its refusal to participate in the elections, declaring that Rahmonov’s consecutive presidential terms are unconstitutional (Fergana.ru, September 22). The party does not recognize the 2003 referendum in which Rahmonov secured two additional seven-year terms for himself. The SDP also does not recognize the legitimacy of the November 6 elections.
The Communist party, the third-largest political formation in Tajikistan after Rahmonov’s People’s Democratic Party and the IRP, expressed its hopes for a strong showing in the elections. The party’s candidate, Ismoil Talbakov, is a representative of Kulyob region, Rahmonov’s home base. It is doubtful that two representative of the same region in Tajikistan would seriously consider competing for the presidency. The party claims that it has almost collected all of the signatures needed to meet the CEC’s requirements and is most concerned with mobilizing its own electorate (Regnum, October 2).
The Communist party’s speculations about the election’s outcome might well be only an attempt to play along with the ruling party in order to secure its own existence. The party has been rather a loyal supporter of Rahmonov’s regime since he was elected president in 1994. The party claims to have 50,000 members.
Other presidential candidates have insignificant experience in politics. According to Kommersant, these candidates mainly represent the intellectual elite in Tajikistan and are known only to a small circle of academics in Dushanbe, the Tajik capital (September 26). These candidates also lack strong financial support. Fielding a selection of weak candidates can somewhat calm domestic criticism while also securing an easy victory for Rahmonov.
With only a few weeks left until the election, Rahmonov has allowed four TV and radio stations to register with the government. In the last six months, about 15 different mass media outlets were denied legal registration. Tajik experts complain that Rahmonov is acting increasingly similar to Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. The pomposity of his official visits to various Tajik cities resembles Niyazov’s movements, particularly when local residents assiduously glorify Rahmonov’s personality. Like Niyazov, Rahmonov has issued some rather peculiar decrees, including one that prohibits school teachers from having gold teeth, arguing that it contradicts Tajik culture and traditions (Kommersant, September 26).
At the regional level, Rahmonov is supported by Russia. According to the Dushanbe-based Asia Inform newspaper, there are good prospects for increasing economic cooperation between Tajikistan and Russia in the next few years (www.asiainform.ru, September 25). Russia’s Unified Energy Systems is already among the major investors in Tajikistan’s economy, and the company plans to spend $250-300 million on Sangtuda Hydropower Plant Number One. Together with Russian Aluminum (Rusal), total investment into Tajikistan in 2006-2008 will reach $2 billion.
As usual, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will monitor the election process. But after the IRP and SDP declined to participate, an electoral victory for Rahmonov is predictable. What follows after Rahmonov’s victory is the more important question. If he continues imitating Niyazov’s personality-driven leadership, other political forces in Tajikistan will have to revise their rationale for existence.