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Tajikistan - Politics

Tajikistan's politics are dominated by the president and his party. The constitutional checks and balances on executive power are rarely exercised and there is no true political plurality. In the first years of independence, politics in Tajikistan were overshadowed by a long struggle for political power among cliques that sought Soviet-style dominance of positions of power and privilege and a collection of opposition forces seeking to establish a new government whose form was defined only vaguely in public statements. The result was a civil war that began in the second half of 1992. A faction favoring a neo-Soviet system took control of the government in December 1992 after winning the civil war with help from Russian and Uzbekistani forces.

Tajikistan was ruled in 1993 by a coalition of regional and clan groupings [dominated by Tajiks from the southern Kulyab/Kulob region] which won a clear-cut military victory in a civil war racking the country, particularly its southern regions, during 1992. The winning coalition was supported by Russian, Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and Uzbek forces. The Supreme Soviet (parliament) elected Imomali Rahmanov, Kulyab regional executive chairman, as its Chairman and Head of State in November 1992. Much of Rahmonov's support came from the victorious People's Front forces which originated in Kulyab and Kurgan-Tube, the Uzbek-dominated Hissar region which aided in the battle of Dushanbe, and members of the traditional northern economic elite of Leninabad.

Tajikistan remains in the hands of a largely authoritarian government, although it has established some nominally democratic structures. The Government's narrow base of support limits its ability to control the entire territory of the country. The Government of President Emomali Rahmonov, which consists largely of natives of the Kulyab/Kulob region, continues to dominate the State, even though some Kulobis were removed from senior positions in 1998 and opposition members were taken into Government. Some regions of the country remain effectively outside the Government's control, and government control in other areas exists only by day, or at the sufferance of local opposition commanders.

The unicameral, 230-seat Supreme Soviet of Tajikistan elected in 1990 included 227 communists and three members from other parties. This body chose Tajikistan's first president, communist part chief Rahmon Nabiyev. In the first direct presidential election, held in 1991, Nabiyev won in a rigged vote. An unpopular leader in a volatile country, Nabiyev was overthrown in 1992 and fled the country as it fell into civil war. The office of president was abolished in November 1992, then reestablished de facto in 1994 in advance of the constitutional referendum that legally legitimized it. In the interim, the former chairman of the Supreme Soviet, Imomali Rahmonov, was nominal chief of state. In the presidential election of November 1994, Rahmonov won a vote that was condemned by opposition parties and Western observers as fraudulent. Rahmonov's only opponent was the antireformist Abdumalik Abdullojanov, who had founded an opposition party after being forced to resign as Rahmonov's prime minister in 1993 under criticism for the country's poor economic situation.

Khujand, with six hundred thousand residents, is Tajikistan's second-largest city and the administrative center of the Sugd region, which includes Tajikistan's chunk of the Fergana Valley. During the Soviet Union when Khujand was called Leninabad, almost all leaders of the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic were from the north. A uranium ("Tajik Gold") processing plant in nearby Chakalovsk provided well-paying jobs for scientists and laborers, many of whom arrived from Russia, Germany and Belarus during Stalin's forced migrations. The likeness of Bobojon Gafurov, a Khujand native and well-known Soviet-era historian, is displayed on posters and statues throughout the city.

During the civil war of 1993-1997, President Nabiev, a Khujand native, was forcibly removed from office and returned home, bringing his circle of advisors and loyalists with him. Few would ever return to Dushanbe. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Germans, Belarussians and Jews, representing the educated segment of society in Khujand emigrated to the West, and the uranium plant closed. Many area natives who had been living in Dushanbe have returned and are underemployed, given Khujand's lack of civil service and international organization jobs. President Rahmon, a native of a small town south of Dushanbe, continues to pack his cabinet and senior positions throughout the Government with relatives and loyalists. Khujanders tend to view Dushanbe as a town of peasants (including the President himself).

Rahmonov's control over the judiciary was demonstrated in June 1993 when the Supreme Court banned all four opposition parties and all organizations connected with the 1992 coalition government. The ban was rationalized on the basis of an accusation of the parties' complicity in attempting a violent overthrow of the government. The president appoints judges with legislative approval but has the ability to unilaterally remove them.

Tajikistan also ratified a new constitution in 1994 that called for a unicameral, 181-seat parliament to replace the Supreme Soviet. In the first election under those guidelines, 161 deputies were chosen in February 1995 and nineteen of the remaining twenty in a second round one month later. In the 1995 parliamentary election, an estimated forty seats were uncontested, and many candidates reportedly were former Soviet regional and local officials. The sixty communist deputies who were elected gave Rahmonov solid support in the legislative branch because the majority of deputies had no declared party affiliation. Like the 1994 presidential election, the parliamentary election was not considered free or fair by international authorities.

The United Islamic Opposition Forces fought against President Emomali Rahmon's secular government in the 1992-97 civil war. The war ended with a national peace and power-sharing agreement, which saw former opposition leaders getting a 30- percent share of official positions in local and central governments. Since the end of the war, Rahmon gradually reneged on this deal and forced nearly all oppositionists out of government -- some are in prison, some left the country, and others died mysteriously.

Further constitutional amendments in 1999 made the Supreme Assembly bicameral, consisting of a 34-seat upper house called the National Assembly and a 63-seat lower chamber called the Assembly of Representatives. All serve five-year terms, though only the members of the Assembly of Representatives are popularly elected; seats in the National Assembly are assigned by the president or by local deputies.

In June 2003, the people of Tajikistan voted in a constitutional referendum to allow president Rahmonov to run for a further two consecutive seven-year terms when his then-current one ended in 2006. The authorities put turnout at over 96% and the vote in favor at about 93%. There were only a couple of dozen international observers to monitor the referendum at all 2,800 polling stations. The next presidential election was to be in November 2013.

The proposal to extend the president's term was included amongst dozens of other constitutional amendments which were voted on as a single package. The opposition asserted that people were very poorly informed about what was really at stake.

In 2004 the executive branch fell further under the control of thegoverning party as appointments by Rakhmonov left the opposition with only 5 percent of majorgovernment positions. This event followed the expiration of the 1997 peace guarantee that theUnited Tajik Opposition (UPO) would occupy at least 30 percent of top government positions.

The strength of Rahmonov's influence was highlighted again when his People's Democratic Party won virtually all 63 seats in the lower house of parliament in the February 2005 general elections. The opposition Islamic and Communist parties won just a handful between them. Western observers said that the vote failed to meet international standards.

Prior to the 2006 election, the Council of Ministers, which executes the decisions of thepresident, included two deputy prime ministers, 19 ministers, nine committee heads, and severalex officio members. After the election, Rakhmonov abolished 10 ministries and five statecommittees and reappointed Oqil Oqilov as prime minister. In the post-Soviet era, newspaper circulation has decreased sharply because of the high expenseof materials and the poverty of the population. As a result of government pressure and refusal of license renewals, no opposition newspapers were operating in the run-up to the 2006 presidential election.

Tajikistan's 2006 presidential election and 2010 parliamentary elections were considered to be flawed and unfair but peaceful. President Rahmon secured a new 7-year term in the November 6, 2006 election. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) determined that democratic practices were not fully tested "due to the absence of genuine competition, which provided voters with only nominal choices." There were four other candidates on the ballot but no strong opposition candidate. The strongest opposition party, the IRPT, decided not to field a candidate and two other parties (the DPT and SDPT) boycotted the presidential election. The ruling party secured 55 of the 63 seats in the 2010 parliamentary elections, which failed to meet many key ODIHR standards on democratic elections. Some observers saw them as even worse than the flawed 2005 parliamentary elections.

Political violence in Tajikistan is generally rare and isolated. The security situation has stabilized significantly since the Civil War ended in 1997. All factions signed a peace agreement, and the government incorporated members of the opposition into a multi-party system – although President Rahmon has since steadily removed opposition figures from government to consolidate his power. The Tajik government has worked to minimize the impact of political discord on foreign investors. With the civil war a recent memory, the people of Tajikistan are keen to maintain peace, a factor sometimes adduced to explain the population’s acceptance of the government’s egregious corruption.

In May 2009 an armed group led by a former UTO figure, Mullah Abdullo Rahimov, returned to Tajikistan from Afghanistan, reportedly with several foreign fighters. Tajik security forces neutralized this group without outside assistance. Late summer 2010 saw several disturbances, including a major prison-break, the country’s first-ever suicide car bombing, and militant activity in the former opposition areas of the Rasht Valley. By November 2011, all escapees had been recaptured and Rasht remained relatively peaceful. Tajikistan sometimes serves as a transit country for terrorist groups, and narcotics trafficking from Afghanistan is significant. These phenomena have little impact on most residents with respect to safety and security.

The situation inside Tajikistan is shaky, as evidenced by a spate of violence in the Gorno-Badakhshan province in 2012. In July and August 2012, security operations took place in Khorugh, Gorno-Badakhshon Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) after the murder of the head of the regional branch of the State Committee on National Security. The events in Khorugh between government security forces and militants led by Tolib Ayombekov, the former warlord accused of murdering the security services chief. Tajik officials said at least 12 troops were killed along with 30 others loyal to Tolib Ayombekov, various described as criminal group members or rebel fighters. According to government, opposition figures, and civil society member accounts, between four and six civilians were also killed in the fighting against militants. The government failed to suppress the rebellion by the local warlord and had to negotiate.

The vast majority of people in Tajikistan are deeply disaffected, and have lost all confidence that the Government could turn the economy around. There is nothing new about the central government having difficulty projecting its authority outside Dushanbe. Clans in the outlying areas have always been able to resist the influence of the central government. There also does not appear to be an immediate threat to President Rahmon's government: each of the regions is remote; the clans are not united by a shared set of principles or goals; the major population centers - Dushanbe and Khujand - are well under control. However, incidents of violence serve to underscore the perception that the influence of President Rahmon's government does not extend far beyond Dushanbe and a few other population centers. President Rahmon may have effectively consolidated his power in Dushanbe since his 2006 reelection, but recent events show the weakness of central government authority in the provinces, and Rahmon's inability to be an effective intermediary between regional clans.

Young people do not understand their role in the country's future nor do they have an interest in civil society, a concept understood only by the elite in Dushanbe and Khujand. Several issues undermine civil society development. First, education is collapsing, literacy is falling, TV and radio provide no useful information to citizens. Second, poverty is so severe people can't afford newspapers. Third, there are few outlets for building institutional change. Students who study abroad find no open doors when they return; the establishment is not interested in their ideas or changing the status quo.

The political opposition has been neutralized and ineffective; people choose to voice their opposition by leaving for Russia or elsewhere; fears of reigniting the tension that caused the civil war remain a disincentive to publicly expressing dissent. The degree and tone of public criticism is sharper than in previous years, and unlike in the past, the criticism is often directed at President Rahmon. It is unlikely, however, that Tajiks will soon translate their discontent into a grassroots movement for change. Labor migration serves both as an economic lifeline and a political safety valve for the country's poorest communities. Similarly, while young Tajiks continue to flock to mosques, religion is unlikely to become a force for political change in the next year. Rivalries among Tajikistan's political elite are more likely to cause instability in the near term than popular discontent. Part of the country's stability is based on the perception that the government maintains tight control over the population. If this perception seriously weakens, there is a chance for popular dissatisfaction to turn ugly.

A presidential election took place on 06 November 2013. “A worthy candidate will define our future for the next seven years,” Tajik Parliament Shukurjon Zukhurov said 30 August 2013 after announcing the results of a vote that determined the election’s date. Incumbent President Imomali Rakhmon won the previous election in 2006 with 79.3 percent of the vote that was criticized by international observers as unfair. In the 2013 election, he raced against five hopefuls, including a Communist and a candidate fielded by Rakhmon’s main opponents from the Union of Reformist Forces that includes the Party of Islamic Renaissance, the Social Democratic Party and the Democratic Party. The election extended the rule of longtime Russian-backed leader Emomali Rakhmon by another seven years.

Rakhmon, a 61-year old former collective farm director, secured his term with 84 percent of the vote, while international observers said the election was marred by fraud and a total lack of genuine competition. None of the other five candidates in the November 6 race, whose campaigns have been all but invisible, received more than five percent of the vote. Rakhmon, who has been in power since 1992, did not run an election campaign, relying instead on extensive visits across the landlocked, largely Muslim country, during which he opened new schools and hospitals. Coverage of the president in the tightly controlled state media is typically adulatory and led political analysts to describe an emergent cult of personality.

The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) was part of a curious alliance during the 1992-97 Tajik Civil War. The IRPT is exclusively a Sunni Muslim group but during the war years its allies were a mainly Shi'ite group from eastern Tajikistan -- Lali Badakhshan -- and the Democratic Party of Tajikistan. Together they formed the United Tajik Opposition (UTO). Their wartime opponents -- the Tajik government -- were overwhelmingly officials from the Soviet-era communist government, atheists with no exposure to representative democracy.

The IRPT was the only legal Islamist political party in the former Soviet Union. It was granted such status as part of the country’s post-civil war peace settlement, and for 15 years was represented in Tajikistan’s parliament. Despite being the second largest party in Tajikistan with a conservative estimate of some 40,000 members the IRPT failed to win even one seat in the 01 March 2015 parliamentary.

The IRPT called for respecting Tajikistan’s secular constitution and international religious freedom commitments. It opposed the government’s decision in 2005 to close eight mosques near the Uzbek border and its destruction in 2007 of mosques in the capital, Dushanbe. Last year, the IRPT backed a parliamentary initiative that would allow children to attend mosques, which Tajik law currently forbids, and in 2015 it criticized a government campaign against beards and headscarves.

By mid-November 2015 the Tajik government's efforts to control religious activities, especially those of the country’s majority Muslim population, included the recent ban of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) due to allegations of extremism, the arrest of some 200 IRPT activists, and the alleged torture and other human rights abuses committed against IRPT detainees. Until 2015, these terrorists were part of Tajikistan's government and partners in a peace deal that had lasted 18 years.

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