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AP: Islam Seeks a Perch in Tajikistan’s Political Life

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Islam Seeks a Perch in Tajikistan’s Political Life

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: February 27, 2010

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (AP) — Islam is on the rise in Tajikistan, and the only legally registered Islamic party in former Soviet Central Asia hopes to capitalize on that momentum in Sunday’s parliamentary election.

More than a decade after a devastating 5-year civil war, Tajikistan is still mired in poverty, prompting many to turn to their faith for a solution.

Emerging out of the rubble of the officially atheist Soviet Union, Tajikistan’s Islamic Revival Party has sought to fill the spot once occupied by Communism’s ideological certainties.

”People are turning to Islam in search of an alternative, fairness and a better life. So far, only religion has been able to provide such a platform,” party leader Muhiddin Kabiri told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Kabiri’s party only has two deputies in the 63-seat parliament in Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan, but he says it could boost its tally to at least 10 if Sunday’s vote is fair.

The Islamic Revival Party wears its religious cloak lightly, stressing Tajikistan’s Muslim identity while adamantly eschewing calls for the creation of an Islamic republic. That stance corresponds with a largely secular-minded population.

But analysts nonetheless predict that the President Emomali Rakhmon-led People’s Democratic Party, which currently holds 52 seats, is likely to benefit from the tacit support of the state and run away with the election.

Life in Tajikistan is tough and jobs are scarce, so many have headed to Russia for work and to earn money to send back to their families. Even the capital, Dushanbe, is crumbling and dreary, dotted with half-completed roadwork turned to mud by the winter rains.

At night, the silence of the city’s main drag is broken only by an occasional passing car, but in the daytime the Central Mosque is a hive of activity and at a nearby religious college, classes throng with young children and university students.

”If you go to the mosque, you will see that most people there are young,” said Suleiman Dauletov, communications director at the partially government-funded Islamic Institute of Tajikistan.

Recognizing the resurgence of religious feelings in the largely Sunni Muslim population, Rakhmon’s government has opted for the two-pronged approach of aggressively stamping out underground Islamic groups, while at the same time underwriting the expense of building monumental new mosques.

Tajik authorities routinely jail members of the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir and Jamaat al Tabligh movements. These transnational organizations preach a radical brand of the Islamic faith, but say they have renounced violent methods.

Kabiri has sought to distance his party from those groups, but expressed concern at the government’s conduct.

”We believe the robust measures adopted by the government will only lead to a backlash,” Kabiri said.

Since the end of the civil war, which pitted a loose coalition of Islamic fighters and nationalists against elements of the former Soviet elite, the Islamic Revival Party has displayed a marked aversion to staunch opposition to the government.

In a painstakingly negotiated peace agreement reached in the late 1990s, the Islamic Revival Party and its civil war allies were offered several guarantees, including the option of taking up one-third of government posts, but much of that deal has gradually fallen by the wayside.

The party is now fighting to regain its loss of status through the ballot box.

”According to our calculations, our voters account for 35 percent of the electorate, but when you consider that the election will not be transparent, it is unlikely we will reach that target,” he said.

That forecast was reflected in a report issued this week by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s election observation mission, which questioned the accountability of election officials, prompting concern the country will once again hold a vote that falls short of democratic standards.

Source: AP (via: NYT)

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