As long as Tajikistan was a Soviet republic, political power resided in the Communist Party of Tajikistan, not in the state. Until 1991 the party was an integral part of the CPSU, subordinate to the central party leadership. In the years before independence, several opposition parties appeared with various agendas. Since the civil war, the opposition's official participation has been limited severely, although some parties remain active abroad.
Communist Party of Tajikistan
During the 1920s, Tajik communist party membership increased substantially. But in the following decades, the percentage of Tajik membership in the Communist Party of Tajikistan rose and fell with the cycle of purges and revitalizations. Throughout the Soviet period, however, Russians retained dominant positions. For example, the top position of party first secretary was reserved for an individual of the titular ethnic group of the republic, but the powerful position of second secretary always belonged to a Russian or a member of another European nationality.
In the mid-1980s, the Communist Party of Tajikistan had nearly 123,000 members, of whom about two-thirds represented urban regions, with subordinate provincial, district, and municipal organizations in all jurisdictions. The Communist Youth League (Komsomol), which provided most of the future party members, had more than 550,000 members in 1991. The end of the Soviet era witnessed a waning of interest in party membership, however, despite the privileges and opportunities the party could offer. By 1989 many districts were losing members much faster than new members could be recruited.
In August 1991, the failure of the coup by hard-liners in Moscow against President Gorbachev left the Communist Party of Tajikistan even less popular and more vulnerable than it had been before. However, although it was suspended in 1991, the party in Tajikistan was able to retain its property during its suspension. Just before sanctions were imposed, the party changed the adjective in its name from communist to socialist . In December 1991, the party reassumed its original name and began a vigorous campaign to recapture its earlier monopoly of power.
After the civil war, the communist party remained the country's largest party, although its membership was far smaller than it had been in the late Soviet era. In the early 1990s, the party rebuilt its organizational network, from the primary party organizations in the workplace to the countrywide leadership. Communist candidates did well in the legislative elections of 1995, although they did not win an outright majority.
The end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s saw the open establishment of opposition parties representing a variety of secular and religious views. In 1991 and 1992, these groups engaged in an increasingly bitter power struggle with those who wanted to preserve the old order in substance, if not in name. By the summer of 1992, the battle had escalated into an open civil war that would claim tens of thousands of lives.
A branch of the Islamic Rebirth Party (IRP) was established in Tajikistan in 1990 with an initial membership of about 10,000. The Tajikikistan IRP was established as an open organization, although it was rumored to have existed underground since the late 1970s. The IRP received legal recognition as a political party in the changed political climate that existed after the 1991 Moscow coup attempt. Despite its links to the party of the same name with branches throughout the Soviet Union, the Tajikistan IRP focused explicitly on republic-level politics and national identity rather than supranational issues. When the antireformists gained power in December 1992, they again banned the IRP. At that point, the party claimed 20,000 members, but no impartial figures were available for either the size of its membership or the extent of its public support. After the civil war, the party changed its name to the Movement for Islamic Revival.
Two other parties, the Democratic Party and Rastokhez (Rebirth), also were banned, with the result that no opposition party has had official sanction since early 1993. The Democratic Party, which has a secular, nationalist, and generally pro-Western agenda, was founded by intellectuals in 1990 and modeled on the contemporaneous parliamentary democratization movement in Moscow. In 1995 the party moved its headquarters from Tehran to Moscow. Although the government nominally lifted its ban on the Democratic Party in 1995, in practice the party remains powerless inside the republic. In early 1996, it joined several other parties in signing an agreement of reconciliation with the Dushanbe government.
Like the Democratic Party, Rastokhez was founded in 1990 with substantial support from the intellectual community; its visibility as an opposition popular front made Rastokhez a scapegoat for the February 1990 demonstrations and riots in Dushanbe (see Transition to Post-Soviet Government, this ch.). In 1992 Rastokhez, the Democratic Party, and another party, La"li Badakhshon, played an important role in the opposition movement that forced President Nabiyev to resign. The leadership of the much-weakened Rastokhez movement also made peace with the Dushanbe regime early in 1996.
La"li Badakhshon is a secularist, democratic group that was founded in 1991. The chief aim of the party, which represents mainly Pamiris, is greater autonomy for the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province. La"li Badakhshon joined with the other three opposition groups in the demonstrations of spring 1992.
Since the civil war, several new political parties have functioned legally in Tajikistan. Some are organized around interest groups such as businessmen, some around powerful individuals such as former prime minister Abdumalik Abdullojanov. All of these parties lack the means to influence the political process, however. For instance, the most important of them, Abdullojanov's Popular Unity Party, was prevented by the government from mounting an effective campaign in the legislative elections of February 1995.
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