Change you can't believe in
4th 2010, from The Economist print edition
To the surprise
of no one, the governing People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDPT) won a
landslide victory in parliamentary elections on February 28th, with almost 72%
of the vote. Nor was anybody taken aback by the myriad irregularities on election day. The Organisation for
Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which monitored the polling, said
it “failed to meet many key OSCE commitments”. It noted a high prevalence of
family- and proxy-voting and cases of ballot-box stuffing.
results give the PDPT, led by Emomali Rakhmon, the president, 53 seats out of 63 in the lower
house of parliament. The Islamic Revival Party, Central Asia’s only religiously
based party, came second, with 7.7% of the vote and two seats. The party’s
leadership, which expected to win around 30% of the vote, has cried foul, and plans
to sue the election board.
The PDPT in fact
lost four seats. But the vote reinforces the stronghold the president, in power
for nearly two decades, has over the mountainous country. This is its
misfortune. Among other gloomy analysts, the International Crisis Group, a
think-tank, has depicted Tajikistan as on its way to becoming a failed state.
About 70% of its
7.3m people live in abject poverty in the countryside. It has still not fully
recovered from a vicious five-year civil war that ended in 1997. The economy
relies on exports of cotton and aluminium, and
especially on remittances from more than 1m migrant labourers,
mostly toiling in Russia and Kazakhstan. The World Bank estimates their contribution in 2008 as $2.3
billion, or 46% of GDP. Last year, amid the global economic downturn,
remittances fell by around 30%.
The exodus of
mostly young and enterprising Tajiks provides Mr Rakhmon with a political
safety-valve, and helps shield his regime from political unrest. But it has
wreaked havoc on traditional family life, with women and old people left behind
to fend for themselves. Young women often have
difficulties finding a partner and may, out of necessity, agree to become a
man’s second or third wife. This is prohibited by Tajikistan’s secular laws, but acceptable in Muslim practice. Others get
divorced by husbands who stay away for years and start new families abroad.
These women then have to raise their fatherless children and struggle to make
ends meet, sometimes by going abroad themselves.
Tajikistan has also for years had fraught relations with its larger neighbour, Uzbekistan. One of the main sources of acrimony is Tajikistan’s long-planned construction of a dam and hydroelectric power-plant,
which will provide a much-needed supply of steady electricity. Uzbekistan worries it will limit the amount of water it receives from Tajikistan for irrigation.
observers, in turn, fret about the country’s 1,300km (830 mile) southern border
with Afghanistan. Much of it is lawless, giving rise to
fears that conflict in Afghanistan might spread, bringing extremism and chaos. Increased fighting in
northern Afghanistan has caused ethnic Tajiks there to seek
refuge in Tajikistan. Taliban fighters might do the same. Moreover, Tajikistan continues to be an important transit country for drugs en route to Russia
all this, America wants closer ties with Tajikistan. Visiting Dushanbe, the capital, in February, Richard Holbrooke,
Barack Obama’s “AfPak” envoy, said that Tajikistan held “immense importance” to a peaceful outcome in Afghanistan. Worries about the deeply flawed election and its outcome, which
did little to encourage hopes for stability and progress in Tajikistan, extend far beyond the country’s borders.