Challenges to Stability in Tajikistan: Parliamentary Elections in the Context of Political Islam and Russia’s Economic Crisis

February 10, 2015
03:00 pm - 04:30 pm

1025 F Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20004


Umed Babakhanov
Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow

with comments by

David Abramson
U.S. Department of State


Miriam Lanskoy
National Endowment for Democracy

moderated by

Sally Blair
International Forum for Democratic Studies

About the Event

As Tajikistan approaches the March 1, 2015, parliamentary elections, it has to cope with critical challenges from political Islam and the economic consequences of Western sanctions against Russia. The parliamentary elections will pit the ruling People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan against its longstanding adversary, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), a moderate Islamic political party. After suffering protracted civil war in the 1990’s, the Tajik government and the IRPT signed a peace agreement – which made the IRPT the first and only Islamic party in Central Asia permitted to work lawfully and integrated into the political system. A few years later, however, a new crisis of confidence broke out, and the Tajik government has since sought to marginalize the IRPT. After the 2005 and 2010 elections, deemed not free or fair by the OSCE, the IRPT was allowed only two parliamentary seats despite its claims of winning a majority of the vote. Today, the Tajik government continues its effort to discredit the IRPT, portraying them to be as dangerous as the Taliban. Yet suppressing legal and moderate Islamic voices only fosters religious militancy, as more Tajiks join ISIS, and radical sentiments in the country increase. During his presentation, Umed Babakhanov discussed the history of political Islam in Tajikistan and the impact of Western sanctions on Russia on stability in Tajikistan, including the implications of these trends for the 2015 elections. His presentation was followed by comments from David Abramson and Miriam Lanskoy.

About the Speaker

Umed Babakhanov is founder and editor-in-chief of Asia Plus (, a leading independent media outlet operating in Tajikistan since 1995. Under Babakhanov’s direction, Asia Plus has emerged as one of the most reliable sources of information in the region, committed to strengthening the independent media sector and promoting dialogue through a range of media, including a news agency, newspaper, FM radio, and a business magazine. In 2012, he launched “For a Tolerant Tajikistan,” an initiative that seeks to foster greater understanding between secular state institutions and the Muslim community through discussions on the role of Islam in society. In 2000, he founded an independent school of journalism and served for ten years as its first chairman. Over the past 25 years, he has been writing for Komsomolskaya Pravda, the Associated Press, the Moscow Times, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Eurasianet, and other media, covering the civil war in Tajikistan and political developments in Central Asia. During his fellowship, Babakhanov is tracing the evolution of political Islam in Tajikistan and examining whether a legal Islamist party will improve the country’s stability or weaken its political foundations. David Abramson is a foreign affairs analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the U.S. Department of State. Miriam Lanskoy is the director for Russia and Eurasia at the National Endowment for Democracy.