Politics, economics and foreign affairs

Domestic politics

New political framework established in 1999

The 1999 referendum approved creation of a new parliament consisting of a lower house filled by popular election and an upper house whose members are appointed either by the president or by regional governing bodies. As the president selects the members of regional governing bodies, he is effectively in full control of the upper house. There are 97 total members of the two houses; both serve for five-year terms.

1999 presidential election

Four of the five candidates who tried to run against Rakhmonov in the 1999 presidential election were denied registration. The fifth, Davlat Usmon of the IRP, announced his withdrawal to protest against restrictions on campaigning, but his name was left on the ballot. According to the official result, Rakhmonov won 97% of the vote.

The Constitution was amended by referendum in 2003 to allow Rakhmonov to stand for another two 7-year terms—that is, to possibly stay in office until 2020.

2000 parliamentary elections

The 2000 parliamentary elections were won by the ruling People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan, with 65% of the vote. The Communist Party received 21% and the Islamic Revival Party 7%. Three other parties failed to cross the five percent barrier to entry into parliament. Although irregularities were reported, international observers concluded that the elections were a step forward toward democracy for Tajikistan.

2004 pre-election arrests

Opposition parties faced government pressures in the run-up to the parliamentary elections, and two prominent figures from opposite sides of the political spectrum were arrested. Counter-narcotics head Gaffor Mirzoev, a prominent Kulobi general and former commander of the presidential guard, was arrested on various charges, including murder and abuse of power; Rakhmonov subsequently accused Mirzoev of plotting a coup against him.

In December, opposition Democratic Party leader Makhmadruzi Iskandarov was detained in Moscow at the request of the Tajik government, which accused Iskendarov of organizing attacks on government facilities, and embezzlement while earlier serving as head of the state gas company.

2005 parliamentary elections

The ruling People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan won 49 of 63 seats in the 2005 lower house legislative elections. Two opposition parties won seats—the Communist Party with 3 and the Islamic Revival Party with 2. The other winners were independents, most with ties to the regime.

Opposition parties refused to recognize the results, and threatened to boycott parliament if President Rakhmonov did not respond to their complaints.

OSCE observers said the elections failed to meet many key OSCE commitments and other standards on democratic elections.

Government control tightens

Following the elections, independent media was suppressed and opposition figures and journalists arrested. Although Russian authorities released Iskandarov after the parliamentary elections, he was taken to Dushanbe and sentenced to 23 years in jail in 2005. European and U.S. authorities voiced concern regarding the arrests and media restrictions.

In the run-up to the 2006 presidential election, the government harassed the opposition and sought to control the media. The main opposition group, the Islamic Renaissance Party, decided not to run a candidate in the presidential election.

2006 presidential election

Rakhmonov defeated his four opponents, reportedly winning 79 percent of the 3 million votes cast, which represented 91 percent of the electorate. His nearest competitor won just over five percent of the vote.

The OSCE assessed that the election “did not fully test democratic electoral practices…due to a lack of genuine choice and meaningful pluralism. The election process also revealed substantial shortcomings.”

2010 parliamentary elections

Parliamentary elections held in 2010 resulted in a strong majority for the parties supporting the government: the People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan won 71.04% of the vote (55 seats); the Communist Party of Tajikistan won 7.01% (2 seats); the Agrarian Party of Tajikistan won 5.11% (2 seats); and the Party of Economic Reform of Tajikistan won 5.06% (2 seats). The opposition Islamic Renaissance Party won 8.20% (2 seats).

The OSCE-led International Election Observation Mission reported that the elections failed to meet many key OSCE commitments and other standards for democratic elections. Neither was domestic legislation fully respected. Serious irregularities took place on election day, including a high incidence of proxy voting.

Tajikistan Uzbek leader goes missing
uz

Salim Shamsiddinov (courtesy of RFE/RL)

Uzbeks are Tajikistan's largest minority, making up more than 15 percent of the country's almost 8 million people.  Uzbeks played significant roles in Tajikistan's civil war and in politics since then.  Salim Shamsiddinov, a leader of Tajikistan's Uzbeks, went missing in March 2013 after calling for changes in the presidential election law and expressing support for the opposition in the coming election.   His body was reportedly found in Uzbekistan in July 2013.

Opposition prepares for 2013 presidential election
The presidential candidate, Oinihol Bobonazarova (RFE/RL)

Opposition presidential candidate Oinihol Bobonazarova (RFE/RL)

The opposition “Union of Reformist Forces” nominated human rights activist Oinahol Bobonazarova to run against President Rahmon in the November election. Bobonazarova was the first ever woman nominee for president in Tajikistan.  The Union consists of two of the country's key opposition parties: the Socialist Democratic Party of Tajikistan, headed by Rahmatillo Zoirov, and the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, led by Muhiddin Kabiri.

Rahmon winner of 2013 presidential election
Bobonazarova withdrew from race in protest
http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/tajikistan/104056

A voter casts her ballot in Dushanbe during the presidential election in Tajikistan on 6 November 2013. (OSCE/Thomas Rymer)

Rahmon won another 7-year term as president in the November election, reportedly garnering 83.92% of the vote, with an almost 87% turnout.  Bobonazarova withdrew from the race before she had collected the necessary number of votes to be registered, claiming harassment by local authorities.  She was therefore ruled ineligible by the state electoral commission.  The Social Democrat Party also boycotted the election.  The five other official candidates did not run active campaigns.  They included the Communist Party's Ismail Talbakov, winning 5.04% of the vote; the Agrarian Party's Talibek Buhariyev, winning 4.61%; and the Economic Reform Party's Alim Babayev, winning 3.91%. 

The OSCE/ODIHR-led IEOM's Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions reported that the election took place peacefully, but restrictive candidate registration requirements resulted in a lack of genuine choice and meaningful pluralism. The campaign was formalistic and limited voters' opportunity to make an informed decision. Extensive positive state-media coverage of the incumbent president provided him with a significant advantage. In addition, significant shortcomings were noted on election day, including widespread proxy voting, group voting, and indications of ballot box stuffing.  See final report.

2015 Parliamentary Elections

Parliamentary elections held in March 2015 resulted in a victory for the National Democratic Party of Tajikistan, who won 65.2% of the votes. Other parties that also earned seats included the Agrarian Party, the Economic Reforms Party, and the Socialist Party. For the first time since Tajikistan’s independence, the Communist Party and the Islamic Revival Party failed to reach the 5% threshold of votes necessary to gain seats in parliament.

Election Day was peaceful, although the months leading to the election were marked by disappearances and country-wide disruption of cellular service. Both the CIS and OSCE observed the elections. The CIS acknowledged some democratic violations in the election, but overall declared that violations were minor and not decisive to the election profess and results. The OSCE, however, recorded substantial violations in the voting process, including multiple voting, and an unreliable and untrustworthy vote counting process.

Regionalism, tribes and political power

The current ruling elite are drawn from Rahmon’s clan who come from southern Tajikistan in and around the town of Kulob. This contributes to the country’s regional tensions. Tajikistan’s last two major flare-ups of violence, in Khorog (2012) and Rasht (2010), had strong regional undertones, according to a Jamestown Foundation analysis.

Rahmon appoints non-Kulobis to national positions, but ones that are largely honorific such as prime minister—which is viewed as “belonging” to the northern city of Khujand (Leninabod). The Khujandis have traditionally competed with Rahmon and the Kulobis. Recently, Oqil Oqilov, the long-serving Khujandi prime minister, was replaced by Qohir Rasulzoda—himself the former governor of Sughd province. Ministries with actual power, such as the Ministry of the Interior headed by Ramazon Rahimov, or those that are potentially lucrative such as the Ministry of Finance headed by Abdusalom Qurbonov, are filled by Kulobis.

Economics
Tajikistan's multiple economic challenges

Tajikistan has one of the lowest per capita GDPs among the 15 former Soviet republics, and is Central Asia's poorest nation. Tajikistan’s economy is heavily dependent on external sources, predominantly Russia. Due to a lack of employment opportunities in Tajikistan, millions of Tajik citizens work abroad, almost all of them in Russia, supporting families in Tajikistan through remittances. These remittances account for approximately 50% of Tajikistan’s GDP. The country is largely deficient in natural resources and industry, and is heavily dependent upon external imports (primarily from Russia), particularly oil and gas. This dependence has proven detrimental to Tajikistan’s economy as Russia continues to sacrifice economic prosperity for its policy on Ukraine.  

Less than 7% of the land area is arable. Cotton is the most important crop, and its production is closely monitored, and in many cases controlled, by the government. The government is taking steps to prevent child labor in the cotton-picking season.

A reform agenda is underway, according to which over half a billion dollars in farmer debt is being forgiven. This will be good news for farmers required to fulfill the yearly cotton quota and are tied to the land through a complicated system of debts and obligations. Cotton farmers are typically compensated for their crop a year later once the state has sold the cotton.

Industry consists only of a large aluminum plant, hydropower facilities, and small obsolete factories mostly in light industry and food processing. Electricity output expanded with the completion of the Sangtuda I hydropower dam, finished in 2009 with Russian investment. The smaller Sangtuda-2, built with Iranian investment, began operating in 2011. The Rogun dam project, which is expected to be the world’s largest dam, still needs significant investment to be completed.  Uzbekistan has problems with the project, which would enable Tajikistan to control the flow of the Vakish River, a major contributory of the Amu Darya River, which feeds Uzbekistan's irrigation canals.  Kazakhstan Foreign Minister Idrissov sought to mediate between the two states in March 2013.

Foreign affairs
Dependence on outside powers

The civil war increased Tajikistan's dependence on outside powers. The post-communist elites managed to hold on to power thanks to economic support from Russia and military assistance from Russia and Uzbekistan.

Large-scale famine was averted largely thanks to humanitarian aid from the international community.

Less dependence on Uzbekistan

There has been an important change in Tajikistan's foreign relations. The old Khujandi elite, which included members of the Uzbek minority, had very close relations with the Karimov regime in neighboring Uzbekistan. The Kulobi ruling group, by contrast, includes no Uzbeks and has decreased Tajikistan's dependence on Uzbekistan.

Improved relations with the West

Tajikistan allowed the U.S. and other NATO states to use its military facilities after 9/11.

In 2002, the U.S. lifted its ban on arms sales to Tajikistan. It also funded the creation of a Drug Control Agency to combat trafficking in drugs from Afghanistan, as well as a $36 million Tajik-Afghan bridge across the Pyanzh River that will substantially increase transport links between the two countries.

Since 2009, the U.S. has increased the shipment by rail and truck of nonmilitary supplies from Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan through Tajikistan to Afghanistan.

Relations with China

China is Tajikistan’s third largest trading partner, second largest investor, and fourth largest donor. Tajikistan has become of increasing importance to China with the construction of Line D, a key gas pipeline that started in September 2014. Set to be completed in 2016, the pipeline will turn Tajikistan into a major transit country for Central Asian gas supplies flowing to China. Once completed, the pipeline is projected to have a significant positive economic impact on Tajikistan, as the country will gain millions of dollars annually in transportation fees.

China and Tajikistan have also taken steps to improve cooperation in border control, counterterrorism efforts, and operations against trans-national crime.  

Relations with Russia

Tajikistan maintains a close relationship with Russia. The countries signed the Treaty of Friendship on May 25, 1993 which regulated cooperation in political, economic, military, cultural, and humanitarian issues. The states continue to maintain a cooperative relationship with respect to military and border security in the region, expansion of trade and economic relations, and labor migrations. Tajikistan and Russia also maintain several agreements regarding bilateral large-scale economic projects in hydropower and other natural resoruces including mining gas, oil, and minerals. 

Cooperation with Russia continues
A satelite image of the Nurbek Space Surveillance Center (OKNO) (Google Earth)

A satelite image of the Nurbek Space Surveillance Center (OKNO) (Google Earth)

Tajikistan continues to cooperate with Russia on security and economics. Russia and Tajikistan agreed in 2012 to renew an expiring 20-year basing agreement for facilities in Dushanbe, Kulyab and Kurgan-Tyube.  Russia has a reported 7,000 troops of the 201 Motor Rifle Division, as well as helicopter and fighter groups, in Tajikistan; and controls the Nurek Space Surveillance Center (OKNO).  Russia will supply about 375 million dollars worth of military equipment to Tajikistan as part of the package deal.

Russian border guards were replaced by Tajik border guards along the 1,344 kilometer Tajik-Afghan border in 2005. While Tajik government officials had complained that the Russians were not providing effective security on the border, the departure of the Russian border guards led to concerns that their absence has facilitated a substantial increase in the already considerable flow of drugs into Tajikistan from Afghanistan. Since 2005, only Russian military advisors have been deployed on Tajik borders.

Meanwhile, Tajikistan and Russia signed an agreement in 2012 easing visa restrictions on Tajik laborers migrating to Russia.

Dependence on Russia

Tajikistan’s lack of economic development has led the country to be heavily dependent on Russia. Remittances from Russia remain a primary source of income for many Tajik families. Tajikistan is also heavily dependent upon Russian energy imports, humanitarian aid, and foreign direct investment. 

 

Integration into the Eurasian Economic Union

Tajikistan is currently considering integration into the Russia-backed Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). However, several development barriers prevent Tajikistan from acceptance into the organization, such as low production output, poor infrastructure, and ongoing border disputes with neighbors Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. While many believe that Tajikistan can benefit economically from integration into the EEU, critics fear an inevitable loss of sovereignty to Russia. 

Border Issues

Tajikistan has border disputes with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. 

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have experienced border disputes concerning two key issues, the first of which is minefields.  Uzbekistan’s decision to indiscriminately mine rural areas along its border with Tajikistan intended to prevent cross-border crime and extremism, but ultimately caused many civilian casualties. Tajikistan argues that many mines were placed on Tajik territory. In 2004, Uzbekistan agreed to de-mine sections of the Tajik-Uzbek border area. After gunmen attacked a border post in 2006, the countries agreed to strengthen cooperation in policing the border. Still, Tajikistan border guards shot and killed an Uzbekistan border guard in 2006, and a Uzbekistan border guard was wounded in an incident in September 2012.

The second border issue between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan concerns the bordering Vakhsh River. This conflict emerged in 2012 when Tajikistan expressed intent to build a dam on the Vakhsh River. Uzbekistan opposes this dam, suggesting that Tajikistan will use the dam as a lever against Uzbekistan since this river feeds into Uzbekistan’s important cotton fields. Uzbekistan has responded by blocking supplies in transit to Tajikistan and speaking out against the development, although the conflict has not escalated substantially to violence.

Kyrgyzstan

Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan share a border of 971 kilometers, 500 of which remain disputed. There are disagreements over some 80 segments, with the Joint Commission tasked with delineating the border deadlocked on more than half the disputed areas. Ethnic tensions are high along the border areas and disputed Tajik-populated enclaves Vorukh and Chorku that reside officially within Kyrgyzstan. A shootout that left eight wounded -- Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan military -- occurred in January 2014, and violent incidents involving Tajikhs and Kyrgyz in villages along the border in the Ferghana Valley occurred in April and May 2013. Hundreds were involved, casualties occurred and numerous vehicles were damaged. However, the states made substantial developments towards a peaceful resolution of the dispute between 2013 and 2014. The parties agreed on constructing a road and two bridges to connect Vorukh to Tajikistan with provisions on demarcating the border to prevent future conflicts. 

Afghanistan

Tajikistan is ill-equipped to police its 800-mile border with Afghanistan, and struggles with preventing the flow of extremism and transnational crime to and from Afghanistan. Five armed clashes took place between smugglers and Tajik border guards on the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border in March 2013.