|Tajikistan: Free Parliamentary Elections or Flirting with the West?
By Ravshan Temourian
On the eve of parliamentary elections, the Government of Tajikistan has turned to the West, again. Boasting of commitment to transparent and democratic elections during a meeting with European Union in Athens, Tajik Government implied its disappointment with Moscow’s policies and its desire to cooperate with the EU as well as the US.
By this means, Dushanbe decided to address its accumulated social-economic and water-energy distribution problems with Uzbekistan in addition to refreshing its image in the US and among Western organizations. As David Nauer, a Swiss reporter, ironically stated, “US is bullying in Russian backyard.” Political and economic situation in this Central Asian country has not change much in the last two decades: Tajikistan sustains on remittances of labor migrants from Russia and other countries, the government of Emomali Rahmon is not able to find “its way out” from ongoing crisis inherited in the 20th century. During the two decades of ruling, Rahmon’s government did not manage to revive the economy, implement reforms in agriculture, and address acute social problems of the population. It also failed to find a solution to major social-humanitarian problem – bringing back an army of almost two-million Tajik migrant workers from abroad and providing them with decent jobs in their homeland.
Dushanbe’s foreign strategic alliances are also not clear and often shifting depending on specifics of the situation. Compared to other states of the region, as mentioned by Western observers, Tajikistan looks more like a “failed state” with several features of feudal-family monarchy.
During an extended period of time, the Government has created a political vacuum through repressive measures against the secular opposition (Social-Democratic Party, Democratic Party, Socialist Party of Tajikistan and etc.), separating them into branches and establishing surrogate “controlled” opposition parties. This vacuum has gradually been filled with various radical groups supported by Saudi Arabia or Islamic Republic of Iran as well as Western missionary organizations which already have gained influence in Tajik society.
The population is quite discontent with the authoritarian regime, but it is not ready to protest against lawlessness and exploitation by the government. People, who find it impossible to live in such conditions and realize the long-term deadlock of the affairs, are leaving the country. Passive attitude and indifference of majority of population and demoralization of political masses helped spread corruption almost in all government offices and encouraged populist ideas of leadership.
Despite the ineffective team of Tajik president and low level of popularity of his government among people, Rahmon can somewhat rely on armed forces. Experts from Center for European Policies Studies of EU suggest that enforcement organizations of President Rahmon’s government can adequately confront threats – from social, political and external. However, Reinhard Veser, German analyst, disagrees with this conclusion, saying, “Weakness of state institutions is so obvious that situation can simply get out of control.”
The fact that this country is sunk deep in corruption cannot be argued. But the reality is that widespread corruption, corrosion of power, more than 15 years of wrestling with stronger Uzbekistan, poor management of economy, ongoing processes of instability in the entire society can pose a serious threat to foundations of state building in Tajikistan.
Meanwhile, in this context, it is naïve to expect free and fair parliamentary elections and major change in the course of Rahmon’s government towards democratic values and respect for citizens’ rights. As experience has shown, it is more likely that at this time Emomali Rahmon will only carry out a few “make-up” changes and flirt with the EU and the US; changes that will not actually solve problems of chronic and crisis degree which this former Soviet Central Asian nation has been suffering from for decades.
Our Note: Ravshan Temourian is a Montreal-based Tajik-native journalist, analyst who specializes in political issues in Central Asia, guest lecturer at University of Montreal.