Nobody has ever been engaged in serious research of public opinion regarding the level of public confidence in the government in Tajikistan. Perhaps, this is an extremely sensitive issue for the current Tajik society that has survived civil war at the beginning of independence and is still living in fear of a repetition of such events. However, in an article written exclusively for cabar.asia, the authors tried to analyze the situation on the basis of a mini-survey organized among ordinary people in the markets and streets of the capital city, Dushanbe, as well as several experts and analysts well-known in the country.
Emomali Rahmon, the President of the country, has been in power during twenty-three years. The degree of public confidence in the government led by him has varied depending on the period of development of the country.
PHASE I: THE CIVIL WAR
Tajikistan has paid expensive price for the independence. Fratricidal civil war of 1992-1997 divided the country into two warring camps. The current government in Tajikistan came to power as a result of winning this war and was itself one of the parties to the conflict, so it, a priori, could not get complete trust at that moment.
The population of Rasht group of districts in the east, where the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) was based, pirated by the rebellious militants loyal to the government, was intimidated. The bodies of officers and soldiers were sent home from the sites of fierce battles. News about the horrors of captivity in the camp of the opposition forces made people even more scared.
The people who at that time suffered from the lack of state power, after a series of positive actions of the new leader of the country Emomali Rahmon (then his surname was Rakhmonov), who expressed his commitment to establishing peace and unity, ending the war, returning of all refugees and providing the population with bread, needed in peace and tranquility.
Tired of war, the population met with joy the news of signing of the Peace Agreement between the government and the UTO in summer of 1997. They finally had a hope that the cessation of war and bloodshed will create all conditions for the development of the country, and the new government will direct all their efforts to solve their problems.
One of the oldest members of the parliament of the country who wished to remain anonymous said that in 1994, in view of the military situation in the country, where urgent decisions should have been made, most of the powers of the parliament were delegated to the President. It was then that the President has received all power in the country – legislative and executive.
PHASE II: life after signing a peace agreement – PEAK OF CONFIDENCE
During some period, in the early 2000s, universal enthusiasm reigned in the country. Paramilitary groups were disbanded and withdrawn from the cities, and refugees returned home. The reconciliation with the opposition and giving a 30% quota in the government to the UTO, the integration of former combatants into peaceful life – all that contributed to the increase in the confidence to the new authorities. The country began the process of peacebuilding.
The authorities expressed their commitment to the democratic process. Good laws were adopted, and there were advances in the field of human rights. Independent media and civil society began to develop. Citizens, encouraged by such changes in the country, have seen the President as a guarantor of peace and stability. This, in fact, was the peak period of public confidence in the authorities in Tajikistan.
PHASE III: stabilization and peaceful life
The period of general rejoicing did not last very long. The economy of the republic, destroyed by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the civil war, had to be restored. However, in an effort to surround themselves with loyal employees, the higher echelons of power began to implement a poorly developed personnel policy, which has led to increased regionalism and corruption. The lack of professional managers and economists in the government did not contribute to significant growth in industrial production. All adopted reforms and development programs of the country have not been properly completed, which has led to a large increase in the labor migration among the working age population.
By itself, the labor migration has become a positive solution to exit the crisis, taking into account the absence of jobs inside. A lot of problems were solved thanks to money remittances from Tajik labor migrants, which accounted for considerable sums, exceeding half of the GDP of the country. Among the problems that were solved to a great extent thanks to the money remittances are the construction of housing, rising purchasing power and household income. But, at the same time, this has led to excessive dependence of the economy of the Republic on the remittances. The country has ceased to produce the necessary products. Industrial growth has stopped. The reform in the field of agriculture has slowed down. Imports considerably exceeded exports. In addition, migrant workers, whose rights in the host countries were not protected by state structures, have become a bargaining chip in the hands of politicians to exercise the pressure against the Tajik government, especially in the relations with the Russian Federation, where the bulk of Tajik migrant workers work.
As a result, in addition to all the above, the absence of men, leaving in labor migration, has led to a crisis in the institution of marriage and family in Tajikistan. Numerous studies on the subject conducted by various NGOs and research centers have shown that more than half of divorce cases in the country occur in families where one spouse is in another country as a migrant worker. It has become a big problem for the government and led to a deterioration of social life of abandoned wives and children of migrants.
CREDIT OF TRUST – the results are far from expectations
Getting the trust of the population for those governments that came to power as a result of conflict in split societies is a very difficult task. The Tajik government had to solve it.
Along with political reforms, there was a need for economic reforms, too, and the Tajik government was unable to achieve this goal. In contradiction with the commitments made under the Peace Agreement signed in 2003, the country held a referendum amending the Constitution, under which the incumbent President received the right to stay in power for two seven-year terms, i.e. until 2021.
A few years later, arrests and persecution of the influential members of the opposition have begun, and some of them have been killed under very questionable circumstances. All members of the government from the opposition, who came in power as a result of the signed Agreement, were removed from their positions. The peace agreement terms have been forgotten.
The post-war problems that should have been resolved, such as the development of industrial enterprises, creating new jobs, improving living standards, were not resolved in the way that was expected of public authorities.
The corruption is increasing everywhere. And if at the beginning of the postwar period, the corruption in various government bodies was just beginning to assert itself, and the people happy that the war and the bloodshed had stopped did not attach much importance to this phenomenon, some years later, the situation has not improved, and on the contrary, it got worse. In 2006, one of the experts of the Center for Strategic Studies in Tajikistan, involved in the research related to corruption in government, called it “an attack on national security.”
In addition to the peace and stability, the people were expecting the democratic and economic reforms, but these expectations were not fulfilled. Cronyism and nepotism have become the dominant driving force in dealing with personnel and other issues. All the efforts of the country aimed at the stabilization and democratization of society have failed.
For more than two decades, the government cannot provide the people with basic living conditions, such as electricity (annually, in winter, Tajikistan that has only hydropower resources is experiencing a huge lack of electricity; in most populated areas, people have electricity during no more than 10 hours per day), gas and hot water.
According to the majority of people who participated in the survey, the main reasons for such failures are corruption, cronyism and nepotism.
Gradually, the reforms aimed at improving living standards have stalled.
Rigid tax legislation and the opacity of the budget, a low legal literacy of the population and the injustice of the judicial system, and other problems have led to the fact that the population of Tajikistan does not trust the authorities and prefer not to deal with them, unless there is a specific need.
The government has strengthened the power vertical so much, that any attempt to protest on the part of the population is brutally suppressed, sometimes with a disproportionate use of armed forces of the army. Law enforcement operations using military forces were practically held in all regions of the country, in 2009 – in Tavildar and Kulyab, in 2010 – in Rasht, and in 2012 – in Khorog.
From this point, the government, manipulating the population’s fear of the horrors of civil war, directs all its programs only to strengthen, enhance and maintain its political power.
At the moment, the situation in Tajikistan is that the government follows its own way, and the population follows its own way.
One of the experts in the field of politics and social studies, who participated in the survey, Mehmonsho Sharifzoda engaged in research and study of political processes in the country believes that the nature of authoritarian regimes is that they do not pay any attention to the degree of public trust, to their electorate or community support.
“The reality is that the government, instead of restoring trust between themselves and the people, is engaged in strengthening of supervisory and control agencies. And today, as you can see, the law enforcement agencies: the Prosecutor’s Office, the police, the State Security Committee, whom the government has given very wide powers, are strengthening strict control over the population. The tax authorities and the tax legislation itself keeps so long the activities of small and medium-sized entrepreneurs in a stress mode and charges huge amounts of money that entrepreneurs are forced to leave their jobs, which also leads to an increase in the number of people who have lost confidence in the authorities”, said Sharifzoda.
In a situation where the people and the government of Tajikistan has long been living and working in a divided society, such a policy prevents us from speaking about the confidence of the population, moreover, it is already about a serious breach in relations and enormous mistrust between the government and the people.
Legislative acts and some of the authorities have vividly demonstrated that. In recent years, the country adopted a series of laws aimed at regulating the private life of the population, contrary to the rules of law and the constitution. In particular, the Act on respecting customs and traditions, the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations, adopted in 2009, the prohibition to go to mosques for women and children up to 18 years old, the Law on marriage with foreigners, which were passed in order to make life easier, but in fact, they increased the burden and hidden discontent of the population.
More Pressure, more distrust
Special deterioration and collapse of democratic reform took place after the last presidential election in the autumn of 2013, when the current President was re-elected for the latter term, according to the Constitution. There is increasing pressure on opponents of the government. The field of activity for civil society and independent media is getting narrower.
Parliamentary elections in March 2015 showed a lack of confidence of the population in this process. Despite the fact that the Central Commission for Elections and Referendums said about the participation of nearly 90% of voters, experts in Tajikistan say that, in fact, the share of the population of Tajikistan in the elections is much less.
According Khikmatullo Sayfullozoda, an expert of the analytical center “Dialogue”, a member of the political council of the IRP, “the share of the population which supports the government is about 10-15%. The number of its opponents is about – 20-25%, and the rest, that is 60-65% is the layer that does not trust any of the parties. For the latter, the important moment is when some of the parties offers to meet their needs”.
“The first two parts of the population are taking part in the election, i.e. a maximum of 30-35%”, said Sayfullozoda who made these conclusions from his experience of many years of participation in political elections.
Opposition parties – the Communist Party (CPT), the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) and the Social Democratic (SDPT), having a stable electorate, did not pass the 5% threshold and were not included in the parliament. The parties did not recognize the election results and believed that there was fraud involved. However, none of the opposition parties have complained to the Tajik court to challenge the election results.
Shodi Shabdolov, the chairman of the CPT, one of the oldest members of the parliament of Tajikistan and Mukhiddin Kabiri, the chairman of the IRP stated that the courts in Tajikistan were under the influence of the executive branch and are not independent. Handling complaints in such circumstances is useless, according to them.
To make it easier to manipulate the results of the vote, the personnel of commissions at polling stations in Tajikistan is recruited without the participation of representatives of political parties and dissident organizations. The government has ignored all appeals of civil society organizations and the recommendations of the OSCE observers aimed at changing the situation.
Sayfullozoda estimates that more than 65% of the population are supporters of reform and change, but they can be called an “opportunistic” layer”, “because the trust of the majority of them can turn in an instant if they sense, wherever that may be, any signs of change for the better”, said the expert.
However, to date, 65% of the population do not trust either the government or the opposition, or other political forces.
People seeking to establish their lives in such a way as not to interact with public authorities. People are trying their best to avoid contact with them. Undemocratic and controversial elections, the lack of fair trials, corruption in the health care system, education and law enforcement agencies, the inability to resolve the most basic questions without bribe in any state bodies, organization of the government on the basis of nepotism, as well as the creation of a huge number of obstacles to confessional equality are basis of distrust of the government, said Sayfullozoda.
Recently, the Government has initiated a number of strict orders, including a ban on wearing of headscarves and beards, and also on travel to the Hajj of people under the age of 35 years old, a ban on consanguineous marriages, etc. And these orders are executed by using rigid methods, by raids in the markets and forcing men to shave their beards and by making women wearing the hijab pay a fine and dismissing from their jobs. If earlier the hijab wearing was banned only for civil servants and bank employees, now its action is spread over other citizens having their small business in the markets and in shopping centers.
Government officials explain such actions by the need to fight with the growing radicalism in the country, but the discontent of the population is growing.
Recently, government officials, concerned with participation of Tajik youth in the ranks of ISIS and other radical groups and are actively seeking measures that can counteract this. However, the government is still unable to provide the population with good social life conditions. The difference between the rich and the poor is growing in the country. The task is complicated by the economic crisis that broke out in the Russian Federation and by the lack of new jobs in the country, able to feed its own citizens returning from migration. Domestic industrial production does not develop or develops very slowly. There are no programs to support the development of entrepreneurship and domestic production. Illegal seizure of the property of businessmen have become commonplace. The country has the lowest rate of pensions and benefits for socially vulnerable segments of the population. The people are not counting on pensions or allowances, and are trying to solve their own problems independently, by mainly working as labor migrants abroad. All these reasons, on the contrary, are pushing people to pay their views to actively working radical groups that promise big money and fabulous conditions for poor people.
Meanwhile, it should be noted that the opposition does not have a large number of supporters inside the country either. The lack of programs to improve the social life and the weakness of their leaders do not cause confidence of Tajiks who remember the horrors of the civil war.
“I do not trust these Islamists. They have done so much harm during the war”, said a taxi driver from Dushanbe who responded anonymously to the question about the credibility of the IRP.
People express their dissatisfaction in a private conversation, but they are afraid to talk openly. The situation is reminiscent of the events in the Soviet Union, where all conversations with criticism of the authorities took place in the kitchen.
“The authorities have recently increased pressure against everyone. They are afraid. There is total fear. They are afraid of the influence of the mullahs, of the influence of the West. Of course, they will be afraid. They could not cope with the task of ruling the country. We need strong arms to rule the country”, said another taxi driver, who participated in the survey, also anonymously.
Nurali Davlat, a journalist-analyst, believes that the level of public confidence in government can be determined in two ways: the first one is elections, and the second one is public opinion research conducted by non-governmental organizations.
Elections in Tajikistan have never been held democratically and transparently, he said. No domestic organization has ever conducted any survey on this topic. However, Nurali Davlat cites one poll, the results of which can help make conclusions that public confidence in government is decreasing every year.
The research [on another topic], which recently a teacher of Slavic University in Dushanbe Maria Tzhova has conducted, showed that more than 7% of the citizens of Tajikistan are willing to leave the country and move to Russia for permanent residence. Among them, there are very few Russians, since most of them have left Tajikistan earlier and received citizenship in that country. Thus, people who want to move to Russia, are Tajiks. And, as a representative of the FMS of Russia in Dushanbe noted, the number of people in Tajikistan wishing to live and work in Russia is constantly growing. He said, according to official statistics, last year, 5,000 families left their homeland.
Observations have shown that a lot of educated Tajiks want to move abroad. The lottery of “Green Card” of the US Embassy in Dushanbe is also proving that. More and more people are interested in ways to participate in this lottery. But as Internet users in Tajikistan are still very few, and not everyone knows how to look for it, so far they still are not so many. The reason for disappointment in life at home of those who wants to leave Tajikistan is the lack of confidence in the government, the economic crisis, total corruption and the disappearance of social justice in today’s society, says N. Davlat.
The increasing trend of non-confidence in the government, especially now, during the economic crisis, when the remittances from migrant workers have declined significantly, when the government undertakes tough unpopular measures, especially related to religion, can lead to the most negative and uncertain consequences, which may include social explosions.
What must the government do to regain the trust of their people? The answer to this question is so easy for the population, but is so difficult for the current government. Now the government must make every effort to increase living standards, to implement reforms in the field of economy, industry, agriculture, and social life, to support small and medium businesses, to reduce the tax burden and to root out corruption. But, first of all, it is necessary to make a personnel reform and invite leading experts-managers, maybe, from abroad or successful professionals from within the country, appoint them to key positions and give them carte blanche to carry out these reforms. The country has a lot of untapped resources that can and must be used.
No matter how corny it sounds, the interests of the people must be served more than one’s own interests. This is the basic precept of any successful government.
Evgenia Azimova, Romishi Romin, analysts from Dushanbe, writing under pseudonyms