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Tajikistan opposition criticizes elections
by Bagila Bukharbayeva

The Associated Press    Translate This Article
27 February 2005

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (AP) - Tajikistan's fledgling opposition was pitted against the powerful ruling party of President Emomali Rakhmonov Sunday in parliamentary elections, testing the strength of democracy in this ex-Soviet Central Asian nation.

Critics accuse Rakhmonov, who came to power during the country's civil war of the 1990s, of stifling dissent. They say recent steps—such as a referendum two years ago that gave him the right to stay in power until 2020—threaten the country's stability and hopes for democracy.

Six parties were contesting 63 seats in Parliament's lower house, with 41 lawmakers to be chosen through direct voting. The other 22 seats will be divided among parties that win at least 5 percent of the vote. Rakhmonov's National Democratic Party is widely expected to keep its majority.

His only real challenger is the Islamic Renaissance Party, the core of the civil war opposition and now Parliament's only opposition party, with just two seats. The other opposition parties have scant resources and few candidates.

At a polling station Sunday, hospital worker Tatyana Saakian, 56, said she voted for an opposition party because she wants democracy. ``Nobody can dictate what you must do,'' she said.

But teacher Rohat Abdusamadova, 46, said she supported the ruling party because ``life has been steadily improving recently.''

The president has given international observers assurances that the elections will be held in a democratic manner. Yet in the past several months authorities have forced out of print several independent and opposition newspapers. They also launched investigations of two opposition party leaders.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has sent 130 observers to monitor Sunday's poll, in which 3.1 million people were eligible to vote. Preliminary results were expected Monday.

The pre-election period was marred by opposition allegations that authorities were harassing their members, limiting their access to state media, arbitrarily detaining campaign activists and threatening to halt development projects or aid to areas that vote for the opposition.

Rakhmonov rose to power during a five-year war between pro-government forces and an Islamic opposition left 100,000 dead and devastated the Central Asian nation of 6 million people after the 1991 Soviet collapse.

A United Nations-brokered agreement ended the war in 1997.

Rakhmonov has used public fears of a return to the bloodshed of 1990s to keep his challengers in check, but the opposition warns that his heavy-handed rule could result in renewed violence.

A Jan. 31 car bomb left one dead and three injured outside the Emergencies Ministry in Dushanbe. No one claimed responsibility for the attack. Authorities called it a terrorist act but gave no details.

Tajikistan is also struggling to stem a massive flow of heroin from neighboring Afghanistan, destined for Russia and Europe. Poverty is another problem, with an estimated 1 million forced to search for jobs in Russia or other former Soviet republics.

Copyright©2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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