Tajikistan's Islamic party to field candidate in next year's presidential elections

Tajikistan's Islamic party will field a candidate to challenge President Emomali Rakhmonov in next year's elections, a party official said Wednesday. The Islamic Renaissance Party's top decision-making body voted unanimously to put forth a candidate, but no one has been decided on yet, said party administration chief Khikmatullo Saifulozoda.

"We are quite confident about our strength as our party has enough public support," he said.

Tajikistan is constitutionally a secular country, but more than 90 percent of its people are Muslims. It has been troubled by religious extremism and increasing drug trafficking from neighboring Afghanistan. With 22,000 members, the IRP is the third-largest party in the former Soviet republic, a poor Central Asian nation of 6 million people.

The party emerged just before the 1991 Soviet collapse and won official recognition in a five-year civil war, which ended in 1997 with a U.N.-brokered power-sharing agreement. It is the only official Islamic party in former Soviet Central Asia.

However, the party's influence has eroded as Rakhmonov, who fought the Islamic opposition with Moscow's backing during the country's civil war, has consolidated his grip on power.

In recent years, he has jailed a number of his potential challengers, including several senior IRP officials. Last year, he pushed through a referendum allowing him to stay in power until 2020 if he is re-elected in the next elections, expected in November 2006, reports the AP. I.L.

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