BACKGROUND: The year 1997 was one of reconciliation for Tajikistans opposing political forces and began a period of social stability in the war-torn country. For the first time since the civil war, representatives of opposition parties decided to administer the government together. A referendum led to constitutional amendments that overturned the law banning United Tajik Opposition political parties and reformed the election system that constituted the legal basis of the recent presidential and parliamentary elections.
Six parties contested the parliamentary elections. On the first ballot, a total of 212 candidates ran in 41 districts and 27 were elected. The results in one district were invalidated. The second ballot took place on March 12, 2000 in 13 districts with candidates from three parties vying for the 13 seats. To win a seat in the parliament, a party must poll at least five percent of the vote. Only three parties crossed this five percent barrier. The Peoples Democratic Party received 65%, the Communist Party 21%, the Islamic Revival Party 7.5%, the Democratic Party 3.5%, the Justice Party 1%, and the Socialist Party 1%.
Many newly organized parties proved to be weak because they do not function completely throughout Tajikistan and are composed principally of friends, colleagues and relatives of party leaders. In rural districts and small towns, their activities have been minimal and so the majority of the population is not acquainted with their goals or programs. Although several of the parties that failed to gain 5% of the vote alleged misconduct during the election, observers from the United Nations, OSCE and other 172 representatives from various foreign countries declared that the parliamentary elections were conducted satisfactorily.
IMPLICATIONS: The landslide presidential elections for incumbent President Rakhmanov in November 1999 indicated the direction the parliamentary elections would follow despite the participation of the United Tajik Opposition candidates. Since Rakhmanov is highly respected among the majority of the population, the parliamentary vote was not cast for Rakhmonovs Peoples Democratic Party of Tajikistan, but for Rakhmonov himself. Rakhmonov represents peace and stability in Tajikistan society. The other reason for the Peoples Democratic Party of Tajikistans success can be attributed to their clever use of well-known and popular personalities to run in the districts. This tactic fostered the success of their party candidates.
The Islamic Revival Party failed in the election because their political ideology was divergent from the other major party in the United Tajik Oppostion, the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party had to separate itself as a distinct political force from the Islamic Revival Party because many Tajikistanis feared the IRP, believing it could bring about instability in the country. This perception was pervasive throughout Tajikistan and it should prove very difficult to change this opinion as the wounds of civil war are very deep. Many Islamic Revival Party candidates did not realize just how much many Tajikistanis hold them responsible for the civil war. They also did not take into consideration that Tajikistan had undergone seventy years of forced Soviet secularism that is now a predominant factor in the spiritual orientation of most Tajikistanis.
During the elections, it was clear that IRP candidates are sincerely motivated by party interests and believe Tajikistans development to be dependent on high Islamic and national values. However, the Islamic Revival Partys downfall was sealed when their two major party leaders split, with one supporting President Rakhmonov. The downfall was furthered by publicity of contacts between the IRP and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The kidnappings by Islamic militants in the Batken region of Kyrgyzstan exacerbated the fears of Tajikistanis. However, the Islamic Revival Party did not have a strong support among the electorate even in the pre-civil war period. In fact, their influence is strong only in some southern districts.
CONCLUSIONS: Although there were deficiencies and mistakes during the parliamentary elections, they were not enough to overturn the vote or render the elections illegitimate. All of the political leaders of Tajikistan agreed with the election results and expressed their desire for peace and stability. The parliamentary elections showed that the previously much feared United Tajik Opposition leaders could contribute to successful elections. UTO leaders should gain important political positions in the government for this. Their participation in elections will cause political analysts to reexamine so-called Islamic "fundamentalism" and political Islams ability to contribute to an emerging democracy.
The Islamic Revival Party will continue its activities and will continue to cooperate at all levels of the government. It will return to the civil sphere and its future activities will depend on the political conditions in the country. After the elections, many Tajikistanis will ask whether Islam is a dangerous force for instability or if Islams danger has been overblown by Uzbekistans President Karimov to increase his regional hegemony over the whole Central Asian region? Among Tajikistanis there is still a great deal of mistrust for Karimov who comes from Samarkand, the homeland of Tamerlane. For Tajikistan, the election was one of the first tests of democracy after its bloody civil war. The election took place at a very fateful moment in Tajikistan society and was a truly important step towards democracy and the guarantee of political pluralism in the future. Bitter life experiences have pushed people toward a wise conclusion: even a bad peace is better than a just war.
AUTHOR BIO: Dr. Yokubjon Abdukholikov is a Visiting Scholar of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at The Johns Hopkins University-Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. He is the Head of the Department of Humanities at the Tajik Institute of Management and Chairman of the Khujand Philosophical Society.
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