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.
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.