Tajik mosques mobilised to discredit opposition

By bne IntelliNews February 27, 2015

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Tajikistan will hold parliamentary elections on March 1 that with little doubt will be won by President Emomali Rahmon's party and parties loyal to him.

Unlike his authoritarian peers in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, Rahmon has allowed his political opponents to contest 63 seats in the lower chamber of the Tajik parliament, the Majilisi Namoyandagon, or Assembly of Representatives.

Nevertheless, fearing that the opposition may pose a real threat to the president's power, authorities are employing a wide range of tactics to undermine opposition parties and candidates. There have been numerous restrictions of the opposition and now the government has called on mosques to promote the ruling party and discredit the main opposition force, which is, ironically, the Islamic Revival Party.

RFE/RL reported on February 26 that it had obtained the text of a sermon penned by the Tajik Committee for Religious Affairs, a government body overseeing the religious sphere, which is designed to be used by imams of Tajik mosques during Friday prayers on February 27 - the last Friday ahead of the election. It harshly criticises the Islamic Revival Party and praises Rahmon's People's Democratic Party. According to the country's constitution, religion is separated from the state in Tajikistan.

"This sermon has an advisory nature, which means we are not forcing anyone to read out exactly this text but they, as representatives of civil society, will express their views on the election," spokesman for the committee Afshin Mukimi told RFE/RL. "However, the text of the sermon contains no political propaganda." Imams will have to do the job without naming names, RFE/RL adds.

"Today there are voices [which say that] anyone who crosses out the name of the [Islamic Revival] party will cross out Islam," RFE/RL cites the text of the sermon. "This is being said by those who have appropriated Islam and made it a tool to achieve their selfish mundane ends, frightening people with religion, God and the prophet."

This is one of the tactics the government has used against its opponents during the campaign. It has also  disqualified opposition candidates - more than half of the 160 candidates fielded by the Islamic Revival Party were disqualified by the electoral authorities, according to AFP - and circulated allegations of sexual misconduct against Islamist party candidates on social media and state television, while at least two candidates from the Social Democratic Party were charged to prevent them from standing in the election, EurasiaNet.org said.

At the same time, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) Election Observation Mission said in its interim report on February 13 that the Islamic Revival Party had lodged a complaint with the Central Commission for Elections and Referenda that electoral authorities had registered at least two candidates - presumably from parties loyal to Rahmon - who have criminal records.

The 63 seats in the lower chamber are contested by 288 candidates, fielded by eight political parties registered in the country, including 103 candidates contesting 22 seats on party lists and 185 candidates contesting 41 seats in single-seat constituencies.

In the 2010 parliamentary election, Rahmon's People's Democratic Party won 70.6% of votes (45 seats) and the Islamists 8.2% (two seats), with the Communist Party, the Agrarian Party and the Party of Economic Reforms winning two seats each. Three other parties - the Democratic Party, the Socialist Party and the Social Democratic Party are not represented in the outgoing parliament, according to the OSCE/ODIHR. Tajikistan, like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, has never held a parliamentary or presidential election considered by the OSCE as free and fair.

The central electoral commission said more than 4.3mn Tajik citizens had registered to vote in nearly 3,200 polling stations. A further 35 polling stations were set up in 27 countries for Tajiks living abroad.

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