By Oleg Salimov (03/18/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Tajikistan held parliamentary elections on March 1. Eight political parties participated, including the National Democratic Party of Tajikistan, Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, Communist Party of Tajikistan, Agrarian Party, Socialist Party, Social-Democratic Party, Economic Reforms Party, and Democratic Party. The predictable outcome of the elections was the sweeping victory of the National Democratic Party (NDPT) with 65.2 percent of votes. Alongside NDPT, the newly elected parliament will include the Agrarian Party, the Economic Reforms Party and the Socialist Party.
Two opposition parties, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) and the Communist Party, failed to reach the five percent threshold for entering parliament. It is the first time in Tajikistan’s political history that the Communist Party was voted out of parliament. The Islamic Renaissance Party made its previously most unsuccessful elections in 2005, when it received only two seats in parliament and refused to acknowledge the election results.
Soon after Tajikistan’s Central Election Committee (CEC) announced the voting tally, IRPT leader Mukhiddin Kabiri and Communist Party leader Shodi Shabdolov disavowed the official election results. According to the CEC, IRPT gained only 1.5 percent and the Communist Party 2.3 percent of the votes. In the most recent elections in 2010, IRPT received 7.74 percent and the Communists 7.22 percent, respectively. In 2005, the Communists gained as much as 20.63 percent and the IRPT 7.48 percent. While refusing to recognize the results of elections, which they consider falsified, both opposition leaders emphasized that they would refrain from public protests for the sake of peace and stability in the republic.
The failure to conduct fair, open, and democratic parliamentary elections in Tajikistan was also reported by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). OSCE observers recorded numerous violations of the voting process, including multiple voting, voting ballots provided without confirmed identification, and an unreliable and untrustworthy vote counting process. Overall, observers noted the orchestrated character of the elections with the Tajik government exercising oversight and control of the entire process.
Besides violations on Election Day, the OSCE observers also described other abuses against the opposition in the months preceding the elections. In particular, opposition parties were deprived of fair media coverage and unable to present and explain their political platform to the public and, more importantly, frequent government persecution of opposition representatives by the government. In Tajikistan’s previous parliamentary elections as well as presidential elections, the OSCE issued similar statements of unfair treatment of the opposition and undemocratic nature of the election process.
Reports of election fraud were issued also by other local and international organizations. In an official letter prior to March 1, Reporters without Borders asked the Tajik government to respect the freedom of speech and refrain from pressuring journalists reporting on the elections. Representatives of IRPT in Tajikistan’s southern regions, where the party commonly draws its widest support, reported violations similar to those registered by OSCE observers. The CEC rejected the allegations from the OSCE and opposition parties, noting a high turnout attendance and a lack of complains from the public.
At the same time, the observer mission from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) recognized the elections as satisfying democratic norms and standards. Although acknowledging some violations, the CIS observers considered them minor and not decisive to the election process and results. Overall, the CIS observers praised the successful organization and conduct of the election process. The contrast between assessments issued by the OSCE and CIS observers was similar during Tajikistan’s previous parliamentary elections.
Election Day was also marked by a country-wide disruption of cellular service. All but one of Tajikistan’s major cellular companies blocked access to SMS services. According to company representatives, the disruption was the result of temporary technical difficulties. Limitations to cellular and internet services are common in Tajikistan ahead of major political events. The most recent was reported on October 10, 2014, prior to an anti-government protest action planned by “Group 24.”
The newly elected Tajik parliament can be considered fully pro-government. Agrarian Party, the second largest in parliament, openly positions itself as a partner and supporter of the ruling NDPT. The entry of other political parties, like Economic Reforms Party and Socialist Party, to parliament effectively ousted the actual opposition formed by the Communists and IRPT, creating an illusory counterbalance to Rakhmon’s NDPT.
By Mina Muradova (03/18/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The mediators in peace talks over a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have welcomed Armenia’s decision to participate in the first-ever European Games that will be hosted by Azerbaijan this summer. At the same time, shootings along the frontline and the military rhetoric of official Baku and Yerevan continue.
Starting on June 12, Baku will host a major multi-sport event for 17 days, which will bring together over 6,000 athletes from 50 countries of the European continent.
On March 11, the Executive Committee of Armenia’s National Olympic Committee (NOCA) officially announced its final decision. The country expects to compete in sambo, shooting, judo, wrestling, boxing, and taekwondo.
Fierce tensions have existed between Azerbaijan and Armenia ever since the two countries received independence in 1991 over ownership of Nagorno-Karabakh, a landlocked region in the South Caucasus, located within Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized borders. Although the two sides signed a cease-fire agreement in 1994, the latest clashes along the frontline and military rhetoric are intensifying on both sides. Monitors say the 2014 death toll of about 60 people was the worst for 20 years, while the nature of the confrontation on the front line is becoming more dangerous due to attacks not only by snipers, but also by helicopters and artillery.
Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s Presidents Serzh Sargsyan and Ilham Aliyev met on three occasions last fall made no progress toward a lasting peace settlement. According to OSCE Chairman in office, Serbian FM Ivica Dačić “… acts of violence increased after these meetings, and the political process weakened.” While politicians are looking for diplomatic solutions, the sports community looks to make its own contribution in establishing trust between sides.
Armenia will participate in in the inaugural European Games next year, claimed Patrick Hickey, President of the European Olympic Committees (EOC) last November, when Armenia’s Olympic Committee took part in 43rd EOC General Assembly in Baku. It has taken much mediation to find a solution to allow Armenian participation in the Baku 2015 European Games.
Following a visit of Hickey with the International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach to Armenia last year, a solution have been found and the problems between the two countries will not lead to a boycott. The recent confirmation is a major coup for the EOC and the organizers less than three months before the European Games.
“We are very pleased to confirm our participation in the first European Games,” NOCA President Gagik Tsarukyan said in a statement. “We know that Armenian athletes will have the best possible facilities and support available to them at Baku 2015, helping them reach their peak performance this summer. I can say now that this was the best decision for the future of sport in our country … My Executive Board took this decision based on sporting reasons alone; it is important to keep sport independent from politics, he noted.
The U.S. Co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group James Warlick posted on Twitter: “Good news that Armenian athletes will compete in the European games in Baku. Hope Azerbaijan will welcome the decision.” The decision was also welcomed by France.
However, the decision of Armenia’s NOC has been hotly contested between the Olympic Committee chiefs and some leaders of the country’s sports federations, who have opposed the idea of participating in the games to be held in Azerbaijan from June 12-28. “There’s no need for our athletes to go to Baku,” Levon Julfalakyan, the head coach of Armenia’s Greek-Roman wrestling team said. “They will never get a fair deal for their performances in Azerbaijan.” His statement was backed by Armenia’s gymnastics head Albert Azaryan. “Regardless of our athletes’ performance they will never be given a chance to win in Baku by any means,” he said. “Armenia has a difficult relationship with Azerbaijan and the trip to Baku could become a pretty risky affair.”
Meanwhile, the organizers of the European Games have already given security guarantees for the members of Armenia’s delegation during the event. “We invite all 50 countries to take part in first European Games. We guarantee that all necessary conditions will be created. Azerbaijan will ensure security at a high level for all participants of Baku 2015,” stated Azad Rahimov, Azerbaijan’s Minister of Youth and Sport.
Azerbaijan’s military authorities also intend to take additional precautions during the events. “Azerbaijan will give a harsh response to any provocation of Armenia before and during the first European games, Vagif Dergyahly, a spokesperson of the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry told Trend on Thursday. He did not rule out that Armenia, on the eve of Baku 2015, will try to “aggravate the situation on the frontline.”
By Arslan Sabyrbekov (03/04/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On February 11, Kyrgyzstan's former prosecutor-general Aida Salyanova gave her first press conference since her recent resignation, describing it as "forced" rather than "voluntary," as was previously claimed by representatives of the president's closest circle. In her words, the main reason for her resignation was the obvious lack of support from the side of the president, who "could not or did not wish to guarantee security and sustainability for her office's work in combating corruption."
Rumors about Salyanova leaving her office started to circulate some time before she submitted her official letter of resignation on January 19. At his end of the year press conference last December, President Almazbek Atambayev denied information about the prosecutor-general's possible resignation stating that, "her work is very complex and she is tired. She has a family and children and needed some time to rest." Back then, the president assured the public that Aida Salyanova will return to work after her short vacation and wished the country to have such a "President as Salyanova." However, the prosecutor-general's long vacation generated further rumors, with local political observers suggesting that the head of the Presidential Administration Daniyar Narymbaev may replace her, and that she might be appointed as Kyrgyzstan's next envoy to Washington, DC.
Salyanova was appointed Kyrgyzstan's prosecutor-general in April 2011, after serving as the President's representative in Parliament and briefly as Minister of Justice. Under her leadership, the prosecutor-general's office has conducted an unprecedented fight against corruption with a number of high profile cases filed against the country's top high ranking officials, including the former speaker of Parliament, former Mayor of Bishkek, former Minister for Social Development, and a number of prominent parliamentarians. She is perceived by part of the public as Kyrgyzstan's "Iron Lady" and as a symbol of the fight against corruption, while others believe that she became a victim of the system and simply turned into an instrument of selective justice.
The former prosecutor-general's open criticism against the country's president caused an immediate reaction from his office. "Aida Salyanova was given full political support and freedom of action for the entire period of her tenure as Kyrgyzstan's prosecutor-general," stated presidential adviser Farid Niyazov. The high-ranking White House official also added that "for a long time, information about the intervention of people from Salyanova's inner circle into the affairs of her office existed only in the form of anonymous letters and rumors, and the attitude of the president was therefore appropriate. However, when these rumors began to appear as facts, she was proposed to draw conclusions, lost the president's trust and is now making false statements for her own political benefit." Shortly before Salyanova's resignation, local media sources have spread information that her spouse and an aide at the Justice Ministry, Bakyt Abdykaparov, received US$ 50,000 for his alleged assistance in terminating the criminal case against officials of the municipal enterprise Tazalyk. Salyanova described these assertions as a clear information attack against her.
The most important announcement during the former prosecutor-general's press conference was her intention and readiness to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections in October 2015. Contrary to local political analysts' views that she will join one of the large political parties, Salyanova has been unanimously affirmed as Chairwoman of the relatively new political party called Kuchtuu Kyrgyzstan (Strong Kyrgyzstan). According to Bishkek-based political observer Mars Sariev, her political party has very good chances of entering the next Parliament and emphasize combating corruption in its election program. Local analysts also do not exclude the possibility that prior to elections, Salyanova's party might merge with larger political parties, socialist Ata Meken party being at the top of the list.
In the meantime, Kyrgyzstan's Parliament has supported the nomination of a new prosecutor-general, Indira Joldubaeva, who has previously served as head of the justice sector reform department in the presidential apparatus. The newly appointed Joldubaeva, 35, is the youngest serving prosecutor-general in Kyrgyzstan's history and has prior to her nomination attained widespread criticism for not having worked a single day in the prosecution system.
The author writes in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not represent the views of the organization for which he works.
By Eka Janashia (03/04/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The Kremlin continues Russia's annexation of Georgia's breakaway regions and at the same time warns Tbilisi to cease its effort to integrate with NATO. On February 18, breakaway South Ossetia signed a "border treaty" with the Russian Federation, and declared its intention to strike an "Alliance and Integration" deal with Moscow shortly.
The agreement mirrors the "Alliance and Strategic Partnership" agreement inked between Moscow and Sokhumi in November, though envisions a deeper integration of the South Ossetia's defense, security, and customs agencies with those of Russia. An already signed border agreement dictates the abolishment of the border crossing point at the Roki tunnel connecting the South Ossetia to Russia.
The border eradication initiative was first aired by Vladislav Surkov, the Russian president's aide in charge of supervising Moscow's relations with the two de facto republics, on February 17, during a meeting with Abkhazia's de-facto president Raul Khajimba. "There must not be a border between us," Surkov said and added that Russia's financial support for the two breakaway regions would be upheld in the face of Russia's current economic troubles.
The border agreement between Moscow and Tskhinvali is a swift implementation of this initiative. After signing the border treaty, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed the Kremlin's readiness to avert the "negative effect" of "never-ending attempts to drag Tbilisi into NATO."
The Kremlin's apprehension is directed towards the establishment of NATO's "Training and Evaluation Center" (TAEC) in Georgia which, in the words of Russia's permanent representative in NATO Alexander Grushko, provokes Moscow, escalates tension and worsens regional security.
At the recent NATO summit in Wales, Georgia obtained a "substantial package," which along with other supportive tools, aims to enhance Georgia's defense capabilities through launching the TAEC, which could obtain a regional dimension in the future.
As part of this policy, NATO's Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow visited Georgia in January 2015. Vershbow assured that despite the Kremlin's nervous reaction towards the planned NATO-Georgia training center, the alliance will make a resolute effort to create the facility before the end of this year.
He underlined that the TAEC will be "the most visible element of a NATO presence in Georgia." While it will primarily focus on command post exercises, field exercises with participation of foreign troops as well as live and simulated trainings for allied military units committed to the NATO Response Force and Connected Forces initiative might also take place, Vershbow said. He also announced that periodic military exercises involving NATO allies and partner countries will start in Georgia this year.
The Kremlin's reaction to the high NATO official's statement was soon reflected in the border removal initiative and strict declarations on Russia's counter-measures to deal with the undesirable implications of NATO-Georgia cooperation. Zurab Abashidze, the Georgian Prime Minister's special representative for relations with Russia, commented that Moscow, Brussels and Tbilisi all are well-aware "that Georgia's membership to NATO today and tomorrow is not on the agenda" and that Georgia-NATO cooperation "in no way aims at deploying NATO military infrastructure in Georgia."
Later, Defense Minister Mindia Janelidze restated that Georgia has no plans to host a NATO military base and that only the TAEC, aiming to enhance the professionalism of Georgian servicemen and with no additional military functions, will be established. The parliamentary minority immediately slammed these official remarks. The former state minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration issues, Free Democrat Alexi Petriashvili dubbed Abashidze's statement another proof that the country's Euro-Atlantic course is under threat. The Free Democrats, led by former Defense Minister Irakli Alasania, quit the ruling coalition Georgian Dream (GD) in November with the same motivation.
The United National Movement (UNM) party, in turn, argued that Abashidze had voiced the government's position. The party's leader David Bakradze said that instead of distancing himself from Abashidze's statement, the defense minister had justified it.
Abashidze's statement came a few days before his meeting with Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin in Prague. The Karasin-Abashidze format is the only channel for direct communication between Tbilisi and Moscow, established by former PM Bidzina Ivanishvili. The previous government led by Mikheil Saakashvili government did not engage in direct negotiations with the Kremlin and preferred dialogue in an international format with the participation of representatives from partner countries.
While Russia's anti-NATO policy hardly surprised anyone, Abashidze's statement, which the opposition interpreted as appeasing to Moscow, was unexpected and triggered doubts about the consistency of Georgia's Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
Through the border removal initiative as well as the "amalgamation agreements" with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Russia signals that the establishment of a training center where the troops of NATO partners may hold military exercises is totally unacceptable to Kremlin. Georgia's incumbent government clearly seeks to avoid irritating Moscow, but it yet uncertain to what extent this stance will slow Georgia's NATO integration pace. However, ambiguous moves with regard to Euro-Atlantic policy not only cast doubt on Georgia's achievements at the Wales Summit, but also minimize its chances to reach any tangible success at the Warsaw Summit scheduled for next year.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.