The People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan has won the March 1 2015 parliamentary elections according to preliminary results, getting 65,02% of the votes. However, what is striking about the results is that for the first time since Tajikistan’s independence, the Communist Party and oppositional Islamic Revival Party (IRPT) failed to meet the 5% threshold needed to win parliament seats. Communist Party leader Shodi Shabdolov called the elections "a political farce", but won’t mount an official challenge “because all courts and prosecutor’s offices in the country are subordinate to the president.”
The absence of IRPT in parliament means that the Tajik parliament won’t have any opposition for the coming five years. IRPT-leader Muhiddin Kabiri stated his party does not recognize the election results, claiming “the results do not correspond with the facts.” Kabiri said his party will hold a meeting to assess the results. The only parties critical of the Tajik government are IRPT and the Social Democratic Party (SDPT), all other parties describe themselves as “constructive opposition” and openly support government policies.
Results & run-up
The election day may have been peaceful, but in the run-up to the elections both SDPT and IRPT have had members jailed. Shuhrat Qudratov, the deputy chairman of SDPT, was sentenced to a nine-year prison term on charges of bribery and fraud. Jamoliddin Mahmudov, a former member of the transitional government of Tajikistan in 1997-2000 and IRPT’s representative in the Central Commission for Elections and Referenda (CCER), was arrested on charges of illegal possession of weapons and subsequently sentenced to two months in pre-trial detention. The SDPT and the IRPT leadership stated that these arrests were politically motivated.
Outside of the ruling party, other parties that won seats in parliament are The Agrarian Party, the Economic Reform Party, and the Socialist Party, the latter gaining entrance for the first time. Five years earlier, the ruling People’s Democratic Party won 71,04% of the votes. The party is led by President Emomalii Rahmon, who has led the country since its independence in 1991. The elections were not without controversy, as multiple irregularities were reported.
The Tajik lower house holds 63 seats: 41 seats are elected under a majority system in single-mandate districts and 22 are elected proportionally from political party lists in a single nationwide district. Below are the preliminary results for the first 22 seats:
|Party name||Percentage of votes||Amount of seats|
|People's Democratic Party||65.2%||16|
|Party of Economic Reforms||7.6%||2|
|Islamic Revival Party||1.5%||0|
|Social Democratic Party||0.5%||0|
Crackdown on opposition party IRPT
Observers say that opposition parties were obstructed and harassed by the Tajik authorities, whereas Tajikistan’s population was pressured into voting. These allegations raised concerns about the voters’ ability to cast their vote free out of fear of retribution. Khikmatullo Sayfullozoda, a member of the IRPT political committee, stated the elections were "not transparent" and "contradictory to the interests of the people." IRP in particular has been targeted by the Tajik authorities, not just during the elections.
As the only officially registered Islamist party in Central Asia the party faces a hard time in the repressive country. Even though the party held only two seats it is considered as a major political force in Tajikistan, with its 42.000 members making it the largest party after the ruling People’s Democratic Party.
IRP has had to deal with a number of incidents throughout the last two years. Amongst them are violent attacks by thugs on party meetings, accusations of polygamy, closure of multiple IRP offices, enlistment of former members to record video messages warning people not to join the party and the takeover of a market west of the capital Dushanbe owned by Kabiri’s wife. The takeover officially occurred because the site was needed for a new sports centre.
According to Kabiri the confiscation was clearly politically motivated as the authorities had declined his offer to build a sports facility himself. IRP insiders argue that these incidents indicate that the Tajik authorities are trying to undermine the party as a political force, in a change from the previous policy of discrediting individual members.
The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) was invited by the Tajik authorities to monitor the elections, they concluded that the elections failed to meet the OSCE standards. The parliamentary elections took place in a “restricted political space” and “failed to provide a level playing field for candidates.”
The international monitors stumbled upon various problems that harmed the credibility of the elections. The monitors spoke of restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, press freedom and accessibility. On top of this, the administration wasn’t impartial. Numerous cases of proxy voting and ballot-box stuffing were noted. Counting procedures were also disregarded, meaning that an honest vote could not be guaranteed. More than half of the vote counts observed were assessed negatively.
The state-run media failed to provide a genuine political debate. Criticism against Tajik officials and authorities is unheard of as insult or slander against senior government officials or candidates for parliament is a criminal offence. Because of this journalists have been forced to self-censorship. Political campaigning was made impossible as slots for political parties and candidates were aired long before the election date. The coverage during the campaigning period solely focused on the state authorities. Combined with negative reports on the opposition IRPT the media failed to provide the voters with the possibility to make an informed choice.
The Tajik government may have stated their ambition to hold democratic elections, but the OSCE report has clearly shown that they failed to live up to that standard. Even though some improvements were made to the electoral law, the many problems signaled by the OSCE/ODIHR show that Tajikistan has a long way to go before it can be considered as a free and democratic country.
Sources: news.tj 1 2, times of Central Asia, OSCE, AFP, Institute for War and Peace reporting.