In two days Tajikistan will hold its first parliamentary elections on a multiparty basis. It is the last among the former Union republics to abandon the Soviet-type constitutional setup. A set of twenty-seven constitutional amendments, approved by national referendum last September, not only paved the way to these elections but created a bicameral parliament as well, one of which chambers is designed to represent, to some extent, the interests of regions (see the Monitor, September 28, 1999; Fortnight in Review, May 21, 1999).
Preprogrammed to win heavily are the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of President Imomali Rahmonov and the Communist Party (CP). The two are running separately, but there is considerable overlap between them. In a number of electoral districts, PDP and Communist candidates have made deals to support each other in the first round and/or to desist in each other’s favor in runoff races. Considerable membership traffic has taken place from the larger CP to the smaller PDP, transfers which amount to a fraternal infusion of strength from the former to the latter in the runup to the election. The two parties differ over economic issues, with the PDP more inclined than the CP to initiate privatization and to cooperate with international lending institutions. Both oppose “Islamic radicalism,” however, are equally supportive of Tajikistan’s political and military alliance with Russia and seem determined to exclude all other parties from any meaningful participation in national decisionmaking or spoils sharing.
In the Mountainous Badahshon Autonomous Region, stronghold of the Ismailite sect, the PDP and CP have made an electoral alliance with sect leaders. That move reflects a longstanding cooperation between the local Ismailite leadership–and the Aga Khan, Leader of the World’s Ismailis–and the authorities in Dushanbe. The government’s staunch secularism notwithstanding, the Ismailites seem to regard that connection as a safeguard against the traditional Islam represented by the Tajik opposition.
That United Tajik Opposition (UTO) seems to be at the government’s discretion in these elections. UTO’s leadership split last November, when Rahmonov engineered a Soviet-style, 97 percent triumph for himself in the presidential campaign. While Saidabdullo Nuri, chairman of the UTO and of the Islamic Rebirth Party, objected to that exercise, a group of equally prestigious leaders under First Vice Chairman Akbar Turajonzoda accepted the outcome without murmur and broke ranks with the opposition (see the Monitor, October 13, 19, November 9, 1999). The opposition is therefore entering these elections divided and demoralized and in a state of organizational disarray (Biznes i Politika (Dushanbe), February 11; Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Mashhad), February 14, 19, 21; Asia Plus-Blitz, February 7, 21-22; Itar-Tass, February 23).
The weeks leading up to the balloting have been marked by a higher level of violence than what is considered “normal” for local conditions. On February 2, a passenger bus was firebombed in Dushanbe, killing at least eight and wounding twice that number. On February 5 in the town of Buston, Leninabad Region, police used force to prevent Nuri from holding an electoral rally. Two police officers were killed in the ensuing firefight with Nuri’s bodyguards, but the government chose not to make an issue of it. On February 10, the motorcade of First Deputy Prime Minister Akbar Turajonzoda–an Islamic leader co-opted by the government–was machine-gunned from other cars speeding past near the town of Kofarnikhon, an opposition stronghold where Turajonzoda lives. He labeled the incident a “misunderstanding.” On February 17, former Deputy Minister of State Security Shamsullo Jobirov, a presidential party candidate in these elections, was assassinated by a car bomb blast in central Dushanbe. The capital’s mayor, Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev, whose car it was and who was sitting in it, escaped alive. Ubaidulloev, in his former capacity as first deputy prime minister, was once in charge of the government’s entire security apparatus.
On February 18, a Dushanbe policeman was killed and another wounded by submachine gunfire. On February 19, a Russian officer of the Dushanbe headquarters of Russia’s border troops was assassinated in the city center. On February 21, Deputy Prime Minister Nigina Sharopova’s sister, a medical doctor, was abducted from the Dushanbe hospital where she works. On the same day, in front of the president’s palace, two groups of men in camouflage uniforms fought it out with submachine guns from cars driving past each other at high speed.
The authorities not been able or willing to identify the suspects in any of these incidents, which stem variously from political and criminal motives, usually a mix of the two. Often–particularly in the capital–the clashes involve rival factions within the authorities. The security situation may well be even more precarious outside the capital, but incidents in the provinces are only seldom reported or acknowledged by official Dushanbe. Meanwhile a criminal trial of sixty-six residents of the Leninabad Region is underway. They are charged with treason, terrorism, murder and banditry as participants in ex-Colonel Mahmud Hudoberdiev’s November 1998 rebellion in that region (Asia Plus-Blitz, February 8, 10; Itar-Tass, February 7, 9, 12, 16-17, 19-22; Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Mashhad), February 19, 21).
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