Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Do the ‘Arab Spring’ and ‘Turkish Summer’ Point to a ‘Tajikistan Fall’?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 19 – The presidential election campaign in Tajikistan has not yet begun, but already those surround President Emomali Rahmon are “in a panic” that “the Arab Spring” and “the Turkish summer” may lead to “a Tajik fall” in which those now in office may not be able to cope with a rising tide of public protest, according to a Tajik commentator.

            In an essay on today, Saifullo Samarzoda suggests that the Dushanbe elite feels trapped “between the Scylla of dictatorship and the Charybdis of democracy” and that all its actions in the coming months are likely to reflect that fundamentally insoluble conflict (

            On the one hand, members of Rahmon would like to choose the former; but on the other, they know that they have to “choose” the other as well because without the trappings of elections, they know they will not be viewed as legitimate by the international community or accepted as such by their own population.

            Consequently, they are tacking between one and the other, Samarzoda says.  The first victim is “the much-suffering Party of the Islamic Rebirth of Tajikistan.” But because most Tajiks are Muslims, the regime has had to use “direct terror” and thus has further undermined its standing with the faithful.

            However, far more serious, Rahmon’s approach has led the members of that party to remember that the president promised the United Tajik Opposition that they would get 30 percent of all government posts if they agreed to make peace.  By failing to follow through, Rahmon has lost their support. “It is nothing personal; it is simply business” for both sides.

            That doesn’t mean that the incumbent president has anything to worry about from a candidate the entire opposition might agree on. No, the Tajik commentator says, “the strength of the opposition is not what it says about specific issues” but from the regime’s inability to propose anything given its failure to live up to its promises and widespread corruption.

            As a result, Rahmon has come up with simply “fantastic” projects like the Ragun hydro dam and railroads from China and the UAE, project that the government-controlled media say will over the next 30 years transform backward Tajikistan into “a heaven on earth, an Asian Switzerland.”

            No one believes this, not even those who proclaim it. Consequently, Rahmon has concluded that “each resident of Tajikistan” must feel the hot breath of “the Scylla of the authoritarian dictatorship” even as he goes forward with plans to hold the presidential elections as scheduled.

However, “international experience shows that in conditions when all opposition parties are under control and the pot of popular anger is tightly shut, something can break out in almost any place.” That is what sparked the Arab spring and the Turkish summer, and the Dushanbe elite fears it could happen in Tajikistan this fall.

Tajikistan has already had experience with football fans spilling out into the streets.  That could happen again, Samarzoda says, and with more obvious political consequences.  Blocking mobile phones or Internet connectivity is no insurance against that possibility.

According to the commentator, “the people are tired of Rahmon, his thieving little family, his fantastic projects, his hypocrisy and cowardice.” As the date of the elections approach, that exhaustion is likely to grow – and if people around Rahmon see that trend, they may take some unusual steps.

The ruling elite could decide “to sacrifice the capital in order to preserve the ship by organizing a palace coup.”  And that possibility means that “no pressure on the opposition, no denial of equal rights [in voting], not even 95 percent of the vote will guarantee Rahmon the love of the people or continuation in office.”

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