Category Archives: Tajikistan

Grigorii V. Golosov – The Impact of Authoritarian Institutions on Party Systems in Post-Soviet Central Asian States

This is a guest post by Grigorii V. Golosov. It is based on the article “The Five Shades of Grey: Party Systems and Authoritarian Institutions in Post-Soviet Central Asian States”, in Central Asian Survey, doi:10.1080/02634937.2018.150044.

As of 2017, there was no single instance of a state that could be qualified as an electoral democracy in post-Soviet Central Asia. Meanwhile, all these states do conduct elections on a fairly regular basis, and they have developed party systems that display a remarkable cross-national variation. While the consequences of authoritarian institutions have been already subjected to a rather close scrutiny in scholarly literature, relatively little is known about the reasons why such institutions take their specific shape. This problem is particularly salient with respect to the most fundamental property of party systems, fragmentation, conventionally defined as the number of important parties in the system. While it is certainly true that the general tendency of authoritarian regimes is to create dominant party systems in which a pro-government party takes a lion’s share of votes and legislative seats, there are well-known instances of long-standing yet very fragmented authoritarian party systems, such as in Morocco. The reasons for this situation have not been clarified in the literature. The purpose of this study is to solve this puzzle by means of a systematic comparison of five authoritarian party systems that, while being quite similar in their origins, belonging to the same region of Post-Soviet Central Asia and thus sharing many similarities of context, do display a significant variation on the main parameter of interest, fragmentation.

In this study, I use a conventional measure of fragmentation, the effective number of parties, in the mathematical formulation developed by Golosov: where pi and p1 stand for the fractional shares of seats received by the i-th and the largest parties, respectively. Table 1 provides a brief summary of parliamentary elections, presented as the observed levels of party system fragmentation, in Central Asian states throughout the whole post-Soviet period. Since the electoral cycles of individual countries do not concur, each of the cells of the table reports the year of elections (or the year of the first round of elections, if different from that of the second round), and the effective number of parliamentary parties in parentheses.

Table 1. Years of parliamentary elections and effective numbers of parties (in parentheses) in Central Asian states

Abbreviations: NPS – no party structure in the assembly; SPS – single-party system. Sources: Inter-Parliamentary Union 2017; Nohlen, Grotz and Hartmann 2001.

I hypothesize that the levels of party system fragmentation in autocracies are contingent upon the scope of presidential powers. This is not to say that formal constitutional provisions, shallow as they are in authoritarian political contexts, are matters of primary concern for the autocrats. Of course, they are primarily concerned with preserving and expanding their hold over the polity. Yet if they choose to follow the rules of the game as established in the constitution, then it is rational for them to facilitate the development of secondary political structures, such as party systems, in a way that is optimal for the consolidation of authoritarianism within the existing constitutional order. In other words, the autocrats are well motivated to seek congruency between the scope of their constitutional powers and party system properties. In fact, there is no reason to assume that in this respect, the autocrats are fundamentally different from democratic presidents. What differentiates the two is not motivation but rather capacity: the autocrats are much better equipped to shape party systems at their will.

For an institutionally strong president, the party composition of the assembly is not very consequential. Given that the president makes crucial political and administrative decisions without any parliamentary involvement and often possesses significant legislative powers, political fragmentation in the assembly can be affordable for the presidency. In democracies, the limits of such affordability are set by the president’s ultimate inability to pursue her legislative agenda in a complete defiance of the parliament, which explains why the coexistence of a strong presidency with a fragmented assembly is often problematic. In autocracies, a strong president is less constrained by such considerations. At the same time, parliamentary fragmentation offers several tangible rewards to an institutionally strong president. First, the presence of many parties in the assembly greatly increases the symbolic value of the parliament by providing a visible proof to the autocrat’s claim that the regime is democratic in its nature. Indeed, one of the primary goals of authoritarian institution building is to project an image of democracy without threatening the political survival of the autocrat. Second, the survival of autocrats in power largely depends on their ability to neutralize the actual or potential opponents by co-opting them into the institutional structure of the regime. This explains why cooptation is often viewed as the principal rationale for the very existence of authoritarian institutions. Yet for co-optation to occur, a wide range of elite groups – including those that do not belong to the autocrat’s ‘inner circle’ – should gain access to representation, however shallow, and to the spoils associated with it. Third, by allowing such groups to participate in elections under their own party labels, the regime makes use of their political machines, which is important in authoritarian electoral contexts that are often dominated by clientelism.

Taking this into account, consider a situation when the formal powers of the presidency are intermediate, neither very strong nor very weak. In this situation, the autocratic president still can afford a multi-party composition of the assembly. However, the payoff of this strategy is smaller than in the conditions outlined above. For example, if the president is involved in the formation of the government yet the parliament also has significant appointment / government censure powers, which is often the case when the constitutional powers of the presidency are within an intermediate range, then manufacturing a multiparty majority poses a problem for the president without significantly reducing the political capacity of the legislature. In this situation, it is in the best interest of the president to seek and obtain a single-party legislative majority. A fragmented legislature is not necessarily dangerous for an autocratic president with moderate formal powers, but it is certainly more difficult to handle. This creates a strong incentive for seeking a pro-presidential party majority in the legislature. In the presence of strong motivation towards single-party control over the assembly, those factors that have been listed above as facilitating the coexistence between institutionally strong presidents and fragmented assemblies become less consequential. Thus the main hypothesis of this study can be formulated as follows. There is a curvilinear pattern of association between the constitutional powers of the presidency and the effective number of parties in electoral authoritarian regimes. While institutionally weak and institutionally strong presidencies are associated with fragmented party systems, the autocratic presidents with moderate yet sizeable formal powers seek and obtain single-party majorities in their assemblies, which leads to low levels of party system fragmentation.

In order to test this hypothesis, I used the Prespow scores as reported at this site with some minor amendments. Table 2 presents the scores as used in this study. The structure of presentation is the same as in Table 1.

Table 2. Years of parliamentary elections and Prespow2 scores (in parentheses) in Central Asian states

Sources: Inter-Parliamentary Union 2017; Presidential Power 2017.

With the data on the powers of the presidency and the effective number of parties at hand, I proceeded with my statistical analysis. The overall number of observations in the analysis is 16, which corresponds to the number of party-structured elections held in Central Asian states throughout the period under observation, as defined above and reported in Tables 1 and 2. This is explained in detail in the previous section of this paper. Given that the relationship between the two variables of interest is expected to be curvilinear, I used a polynomial regression model. The scatter plot is provided in Figure 1 (note that two data points for Kazakhstan, 2012 and 2016, nearly coincide in space). As is evident from the figure, the trend line takes the form of a U-shaped parabola, which supports my expectations regarding the relationship between the constitutional powers of the presidency and the effective number of parties.

The observed relationship is very strong, with R-squared = 0.67, and statistically significant at 0.001. The regression equation is thus: where ENP stands for the effective number of parties.

The strength of the observed association between the scope of presidential powers and the effective number of parties in Central Asian states suggests that the presidents can direct political processes – in this case, the process of party system development – at their will. Here lies the main difference between the dynamics of party system development in democracies, where it is largely determined by societal cleavages and other factors beyond the control of the acting rulers, and in autocracies, where it is largely manipulated by the authorities. Of course, a wider cross-national inquiry is needed to fully substantiate this vision of institutional dynamics under electoral authoritarianism, and it might well be that the dynamics observed in Central Asia deviates from the general tendency.

Sources: see sources to Tables 1 and 2.

Tajikistan – Preparing a Succession in Power or Coping with a Severe Regime Crisis?

Tajikistan, the poorest Eurasian country besides Kyrgyzstan, is also one of the least free countries in a region where democracy generally faces a bleak prospect. Over the course of the last two years, President Emomali Rahmon, who has led the country since 1992, has taken a couple of measures that have been widely interpreted as preparation for an orderly, albeit undemocratic, transition of power to a handpicked successor, in all likelihood, his son Rustam.

In Tajikistan, like everywhere in the post-Soviet space, politics is based on the interaction of broad informal networks that pervade the state, economy and society. These networks consist of individuals and groups, such as extended families or business firms that strive for access to wealth and power. Whereas Eurasia’s more competitive regimes are vulnerable, displaying frequent reshufflings of network alliances and transfers of presidential power that are not always peaceful, the politically more closed regimes, such as Tajikistan’s, appear to be much more consolidated. Here, elite networks are integrated into comprehensive, nationwide “power pyramids,” which are led by presidents who enjoy the privilege of an often constitutionally granted status of the “Leader of the Nation.” They rely on a carefully calibrated mix of patronage and oppression vis-à-vis the elite and are eager to maintain a high level of popularity among their citizens.

In Tajikistan, the President’s home base is his extended family and the Kulob District, the region of the winning faction of Tajikistan’s civil war (1992–1997). This war was brought to an end by a power-sharing agreement, guaranteeing the opposition, led by the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), thirty percent of government positions. However, since the beginning of the new millennium, Rahmon has steadily reneged on this deal, clearing the government and the country of political opponents and getting a firm grip on the regime as its uncontested ultimate patron. As the opposition was being crowded out of legal politics, loyal networks were coopted into the regime. As a result, observers perceived the country to be increasingly stable, even though domestic security incidents continued to flare up from time to time on the country’s periphery. In September 2015, the IRPT was banned as an “extremist and terrorist organization,” and a May 2016 constitutional amendment prohibited political parties based on religion. Since then, Human Rights Watch reports an ongoing crackdown on freedom of expression and the political opposition; between mid-2015 and the end of 2016, more than 150 activists have been imprisoned on politically motivated charges. Thus, one of the few international success stories of peace and reconciliation after a civil war has finally failed.

The Achilles heel of consolidated patronage-based regimes is succession in power. While monarchies are based on the principle of hereditary succession and democracies elect their leaders, Eurasia’s regimes face a double challenge. First, elections are crucial for legitimation, but the smooth operation of the power pyramid requires that the successor be a regime insider who enjoys the loyalty of the most powerful networks. Thus, replacing the leadership is precarious, and leaving it to the voter is not a viable option. Instead, presidents work to stay in office for life, which is why they tinker with the constitutionally mandated restrictions of their tenure. In Tajikistan, the original limitation of two five-year terms was turned into a single seven-year term by a 1999 referendum. A subsequent referendum in 2003 provided for two seven-year periods, simultaneously starting a new countdown for the sitting president. Most recently, the 2016 referendum on constitutional reform granted Rahmon the right to run for an unlimited number of terms.

Second, since even the most authoritarian president is not immortal, succession issues are inevitable at some point. When this moment approaches, the regime comes under stress. The elite may be fragmented into rival groups that are waiting for their chance to seize power as the incumbent weakens or dies. Thus, succession must be settled within the elite, the decision being submitted for confirmation to popular elections after the fact. Clever presidents groom handpicked successors to whom they can transfer power when the time comes. However, such plans are not without risk for the incumbent. If the wait becomes too long, the designated inheritor may get impatient and try to remove the patriarch. Moreover, after ascending to power, he or she may give in to the temptation to eliminate the predecessor in order to forcefully lend credibility to the claim of being the new chief patron.

From this it follows that the least dangerous strategy for an incumbent president is to prudently pave the way for a son or a daughter. The father’s popularity may rub off on his heir, who hopefully cherishes him so much that he or she will never be disloyal, and the elites get a strong signal of regime continuity that may deter quarrels over power. So far, this strategy has worked successfully in Azerbaijan but failed in Uzbekistan. At present, it is not sure or even likely that Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev (77), the oldest incumbent in the region, will designate a successor. By contrast, the presidents of Belarus and Turkmenistan, 63-year-old Alexander Lukashenko and 60-year-old Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, respectively, are quite openly grooming their young sons.

Even more evident are the efforts of Tajikistan’s Emomali Rahmon, who recently turned 65, to invest in the next generation. In the past two years, four of his nine children have received promotions. While the younger daughters Rukhshona and Zarina, both in their twenties, were appointed Deputy Heads in a department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the country’s largest commercial bank respectively, in January 2016 now 39-year-old Ozoda, the President’s second oldest daughter, was elevated to a critical position in government, becoming Chief of the Presidential Administration. In May 2016, she was also unanimously elected to the Majlisi Milli, the upper chamber of the parliament.

However, the biggest jump up the career ladder has been made by Rahmon’s eldest son, Rustam Emomali. He had been chief of the country’s Customs Service since 2013 and of the State Agency for Financial Control and Measures against Corruption since March 2015. In January 2017 he was appointed mayor of Dushanbe, the country’s capital. Not surprisingly, Rahmon’s move fueled widespread speculation about Rustam being groomed to replace his father in office in the near future. Again, this interpretation is supported by the 2016 constitutional reform, which lowered the minimum eligibility age for presidential candidates from 35 to 30 and also made 30 the new minimum age for being elected to the Majlis Milli. Obviously, this is a tailor-made clause for Rustam, who was born in December 1987. It would enable him to run for the presidency in the next election scheduled for 2020, and as a next step before that happens, it is expected that he will be elected speaker of the Majlis Milli, rising to the second highest post in Tajikistan, a position still held by the former mayor of Dushanbe.

However, as solid as these steps for the “completion of the transition to a consolidated monarchy-styled regime” may seem, managing the succession problem might be less than half of the story. What looks like Tajikistan’s definitive transformation into a family-run business may also signal a desperate effort to address serious cracks within the regime itself. Thus, analysts and independent media speculate about feuds within the extended family and regionally based political networks over political influence and resources.

Signs of clashes within the power apparatus, or “clan infighting,” as observers have labeled it, are indeed evident. Rustam Emomali’s appointment as the capital’s mayor ended the political career of Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev, the second most influential person in Tajikistan, who has been both a powerful ally of Rahmon and his main rival since the early 1990s. He held this position for twenty years, but was released, together with all his deputies and the chiefs of Dushanbe’s city districts, in January 2017. Only weeks after his dismissal, the Anticorruption Agency launched a corruption investigation against the former mayor, initiated by the President’s son. Probably as a response to this move, the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) began an anti-corruption sweep against the Anticorruption Agency itself as well as against the Customs Service, that is, against the two bodies that were formerly led by Rustam Emomali. As a result, fourteen leading officials of these agencies were recently convicted of fraud and bribery and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

The brittleness of the cohesion within the elite may be also illustrated by the defection of Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov, a long-term close associate of Rustam Emomali. In 2015, the US-trained commander of the special forces of the Ministry of the Interior to combat criminals and terrorists joined the Islamic State, where he received a promotion to the position of the Minister of War.  This calls into question the capacity of the regime to retain the loyalty of even high-ranking members of the elite.

To sum up, Tajikistan’s recent political evolution raises some doubts about whether President Rahmon has a firm grip on power, meaning that he is about to elevate the succession problem as the most pressing issue of the day. His strategy of promoting close family members can also be understood as an attempt to place the most loyal core of his power network in the regime’s key positions in the face of the ongoing disintegration of Tajikistan’s power pyramid and to prevent the collapse of his rule.

Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan – Presidents Rahmon and Atambaev meet to resolve border tensions

Tajik border guards block the de facto entrance to the Tajik exclave of Vorukh.

Last Thursday, the Tajik president, Emomalii Rahmon, and his Kyrgyz counterpart, Almazbek Atambayev, met in Moscow on the sidelines of the informal meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to discuss the violent incident that had taken place at the border between the two countries the day before, injuring some 30 people. As reported by RFE/RL, on 7th May the 2,500 inhabitants of two villages, Kok Tash in Kyrgyzstan and Vorukh in the Tajikistan enclave, started throwing stones at each other. The incident escalated, several people were injured, and a store in the village of Zhaka-Oruk, some 30 kilometers from Kok-Tash, was set on fire. The road that connects the two countries was closed by residents on both sides of the border, though that section of the Osh-Isfara road has been closed for most of this year due to tensions in the area.

Unlike Tajikistan, which went through a long civil war during the 1990s, and south Kyrgyzstan, where the city of Osh is symbol of ethnic tensions, this area has never been home of major disorder. However a number of incidents, which attracted national and international attention, have taken place since the beginning of 2014 because of a contested road construction project. At the very centre of the disorder is the Tajik enclave of Vorukh in southern Kyrgyzstan. Here, on 11th January, Kyrgyz and Tajik border forces fired shots and two of the former and three of the latter were injured. Later, each accused the other of starting it. Vorukh is home to around 40,000 ethnic Tajiks, and Kyrgyz residents living on either side of it used to have to drive through it to get to different parts of the Kyrgyz region of Batken. To avoid the occasional frictions this caused, the Kyrgyz authorities are building a road intended to bypass the enclave completely. In January, the reaction of each government was to put the blame fully on the other without meeting, whereas this time the two presidents met and agreed to solve the issue of demarcation and delimitation of the common border in order to avoid further incidents. They also noted that the issue should be solved at the level of the governments of the two countries.

The Tajik and Kyrgyz governments generally enjoy good relations, in stark contrast to relations that both have with Uzbekistan, which also has common borders and enclaves within the region of Batken. This means that while the two governments often act together to defuse tensions on the ground. The region still remains a very complex and potentially conflictual area.

Tajikistan – Parliament approves new government

The Tajik National Assembly approved the new government after the current President, Emomali Rahmon, was confirmed in office for the seventh time in last November’s presidential election. On Monday, the representatives of the President read before the Parliament the presidential decrees appointing the new Prime Minister, his deputies and ministers. According to the Tajik Constitution indeed, the government have to resign following every presidential election, in order to allow the newly elected President to form a new executive. However the resigned members have to fulfil their duties till a new government is appointed by the President. Thus, in November and December, Rahmon has replaced former ministers and appointed a new Prime Minister, whose powers however become effective after the national assembly’s approval. The Parliament endorsed the new government and the President’s new appointments by the majority of votes. Nine members of the Parliament’s Upper Chamber had to resign in order to take over their new governmental roles. Beyond being deputies of the National Assembly, some of them also hold positions in the business sectors or in the public administration. As reported by the Central Asian News Service, the new government consists of 22 members. This is the composition of the new government:

  1. Kohir Rasulzoda – Prime Minister;
  2. Saidov Davlatali Shomahmadovich – First Deputy Prime Minister;
  3. Murodali Alimardon – Deputy Prime Minister;
  4. Jabborova Marhabo Tuhtasunovna – Deputy Prime Minister;
  5. Azim Ibrokhim – Deputy Prime Minister;
  6. Mengliev Rustam Shomurodovich – Minister of Justice;
  7. Qosimov Qosim Rohbarovich – Minister of Agriculture;
  8. Rakhimov Ramazon Hamroevich – Minister of Interior Affairs;
  9. Aslov Sirodjidin Muhridinovich – Minister of Foreign Affairs;
  10. Saidov Nuriddin Saidovich – Minister of Education and Science;
  11. Tagoeva Sumangul Saidovna – Minister of Labour, Migration and Employment;
  12. Kurbonov Abdusalom Karimovich – Minister of Finance;
  13. Sherali Mirzo – Minister of Defense;
  14. Asoev Hairullo Asoevich – Minister of Transport;
  15. Sharif Rahimzoda – Minister of Economic Development and Trade;
  16. Salimov Nusratullo Faizulloevich – Minister of Health and Social Welfare;
  17. Orumbekov Shamsiddin Shodibekovich – Minister of Culture;
  18. Usmanov Usmonali Yunusalievich – Minister of Energy and Water Resources;
  19. Boboev Shavkat Boboradjabovich – Minister of Industry and New Technologies;
  20. Yatimov Saimumin Sattorovich – Chairman of the State Committee for National Security;
  21. Zokirov Mahmadtoir – Chairman of the State Committee for Land Management and Geodesy;
  22. Kodiri Qosim – Chairman of the State Committee for Investments and State Property Management.


Tajikistan – Emomali Rahmov re-elected

Tajikistan re-elected the incumbent president of the Republic, Emomali Rahmov, in Wednesday’s presidential election. Rahmov will now serve for another presidential term. He has led the Central Asian country since 1992 and brought back peace after civil war in 1997.

Tajikistan is a post-Soviet presidential republic whose president has strong powers compared to the Parliament and who has control over the judiciary system. Presidents can seek re-election for two seven-year terms. Thanks to the 2006 constitutional reform, Rahmov is serving for his second and last term. The president is directly elected by the absolute majority of votes cast. It is reported that Rahmov obtained nearly 84% of the votes and that 87% of the population voted. The Constitution establishes that more than half of the registered voters must vote for the election to be valid. According to national authorities, competing candidate Olimjon Boboev obtained 3.8% of the votes; Tolibek Buhoriev, 4.5%;  Abdukhalim Gaffurov, 1.5%; Saidjafar Ismonov, 1%; and Ismoil Talbakov, 5%.

Rahmov competed against five candidates, whose names and programs were hardly known to the public as these reports by BBC Persian and RFE/RL show. As denounced by Human Rights Watch, opposition candidates had no or only restricted access to media and newspapers and some of them have been arrested or forced to give up the candidacy. In April 2013, Said Saidov, a businessman and former industry minister, announced the establishment of a new opposition political force named New Tajikistan. In May, Saidov was arrested. Another candidate, Oynikhol Bobonazarova, was nominated by the opposition coalition Union of Progressive Forces, but the signatures supporting her candidacy were found not to be valid. RFE/RL also reported some irregularities in electoral procedures. In Tajikistan, there is only one TV channel with national coverage, the state-owned Tajik TV, and one daily newspaper, ‘Emrouz’ (Today’s News). Despite the growing importance of Internet, Tajik citizens find it hard to have access to it because of the poor electric network, which has no national coverage, and because of state control. Before the election day, two online news portals, YouTube and Ozodegan website, were blocked. The authorities have not commented on this Internet blackout.

Despite being a multi-party system (there were eight registered parties) and despite the presence of six candidates, Tajik elections can hardly be considered free and fair according to international observers. Nevertheless, the president has announced on several public occasions that this was meant to be the most free and democratic presidential race since independence. A similar opinion was expressed by Sergey Lebedev, the head of the observer mission from the Conferederation of Independent States.

Elections in Tajikistan are crucial for stability in the region, considering the draw-down of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force from Afghanistan in 2014. Tajikistan neighbours Afghanistan and is close to Northern Pakistan, a very sensitive area for counter-insurgency operations. Furthermore, Tajikistan is home to a large Uzbek minority and neighbours South Kyrgyzstan, where low-intensity clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks take place regularly.