01 April, 2010

Don't Forget the Tajik Elections

March 29, 2010
By Uddipan Mukherjee, Guest Contributor

Amidst the election hullabaloo in Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Iraq, the parliamentary election in the Central Asian state of Tajikistan proceeded with scant notice by international media.

Truthfully, the elections were too predictable to warrant much coverage. President Emomali Rahmon’s National Democratic Party of Tajikistan commanded the polls, as has always been the case, in post-Soviet Tajikistan; his entourage nonchalantly bagged 55 of the 63 parliament seats.

Rahmon overtly detests any remnant of the Soviet-era. Three years ago he even changed his surname from the Soviet-esque, “Rahmonov” to the more indigenous, “Rahmon.” Behind this fa├žade, however, Rahmon mans his nation’s helm like a Soviet-style Communist Supremo—flouting democratic norms openly.

The man has quite literally ruled Tajikistan since 1992. He clenched power in three consecutive Presidential elections: 1994, 1999, and 2006 and has conveniently altered the Constitution to extend the presidential term from five to seven years.

Almost all opposition parties were banned by the Rahmon government in late 1992, with most Islamic activists exiled. While Political opposition does exist in the country today, it functions without any discernible effect. The Islamic Renaissance Party or the Islamic Revival Party (IRP), championed by Muhiddin Kabiri, protested alleged fraud and irregularities in the recent February parliamentary election, but has been wholly ignored.

Indeed, under the direction of Rahmon, the electoral democracy of Tajikistan has yet to see the light of the day. The United States, along with the Organization for Security and Cooperation’s (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, observed that the February 28 election “was beset by procedural irregularities and fraud, including cases of ballot stuffing”. Other electoral malpractice like use of coercion against the opposition candidates has also been reported.

Rahmon is poised to maintain power through his political musculature for many years to come. The moot point is whether the current situation in his country is fuelling any socio-political flutters.

At the very outset, Tajikistan’s history in the post-Soviet domination is indicative of a rebellious mindset amongst its citizenry. Furthermore, though secularism is part of its socio-cultural fabric, Tajikistan may turn to Islamism in the long run if there is a continuance of dictatorship. Lastly, neighboring Afghanistan is already squealing under the influence of Taliban-Al Qaeda and hence a corollary of that conflict is a spillover across the river Panj to Tajikistan. This scenario is more probable now as the United States is using the Central Asian territory to supply non-military goods to its troops in Afghanistan in the form of the infrastructure called Northern Distribution Network.

Thus it may be inferred that entropy could slowly be increasing in Tajikistan and the potentialities of chaos do exist. With the present war in Afghanistan taking ominous proportions and disgruntled Tajik youth returning from Russia due to lack of economic activity, the interiors of Tajikistan may turn out to be a cauldron of conflicts.

Divestment of political powers and democratic reforms must be adopted by the present dispensation to pacify matters. If not, an Orange Revolution might not be totally ruled out, at least on a theoretical plane.

It remains to be seen how the international players, especially United States takes cognizance of the state of affairs in the region.

Mukherjee holds a doctoral degree from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai (under Department of Atomic Energy of India). He is a Columnist at UPI Asia.com and has published widely in global publications. Presently he writes on International Relations and security issues pertaining to India.


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