By Sergei Medrea (02/08/2012 issue of the CACI Analyst)

In January, 2012 President Rahmon carried out the by now traditional reshuffle in the government and state institutions. Over 20 senior officials from national and regional government were dismissed and relocated. Among the most notable were the appointments of new Interior, Education and Justice Ministers, the Head of the Security Council and the First Deputy Prime Minister. The reshuffle has also replaced a number of mayors and regional officials, most being assigned new posts. The reshuffle occurred shortly before the wrap-up government session of January 18, meant to summarize and review the major achievements and failures of the past year’s work. The session was broadcasted on the major national television channels and showed government officials of various ranks, including the Prime Minister, the heads of major ministries and chiefs of provinces, districts as well as large national enterprises awkwardly bowing their heads and reporting to President Rahmon. The president, in turn, questioned and criticized the work of some officials, sparingly complimenting others, and issuing numerous pompous orders and statements on the future work to be done.

The recurring reshuffles of government officials have accomplished little in terms of serious political reforms that are long called for in socio-economically troubled Tajikistan. Rather, it appears to be a political spectacle, where the president publicly blames and lectures his subordinates for not performing their duties and meeting their set targets. Rahmon expresses his dissatisfaction or content by rotating these same political figures, all loyal to the president, from one government position (lower or higher) to another.

The most notable rotation was the appointment to head the Ministry of Justice of the former Deputy Head of the Executive Office of the President, Rustam Mengliev. He replaced Bakhtiyor Khudoyorov, who in turn was appointed head of the presidential administration. Ramazan Rahimov was appointed Minister of the Interior. His predecessor, Abdurahim Kahharov, was appointed Security Council secretary (a position vacated by Amirkul Azimov who became a member of parliament last spring). However, the greatest scandal surrounded the dismissal of the Minster of Education, mercilessly criticized for unsuccessful efforts to tackle corruption, shortages of teaching personnel and the low level of knowledge of the graduates of the educational system. The latest developments suggest that as many as 40 of 140 incumbent school principals in the capital city of Dushanbe are expected to be replaced. Overall, the reshuffle brought very few new or young faces. Therefore independent experts expect few changes.

Independent expert Davron Zokirov, quoted by the Avesta.Tj news agency, says that the personnel changes made so far repeat Rahmon’s usual practice of “betting” on the “old, tried and tested” officials close to his inner circle and loyal to him. This is especially true of this reshuffle, with presidential elections scheduled for next year. “The unity of an old team around its leader” is more important than ever. The earlier practice shows that even when high ranking government officials are scandalously dismissed and publicly blamed for corruption, malfeasance, incompetence and other misconduct charges, the “guilty” soon enough return to Rahmon’s team, taking on new and sometime higher positions than before. Mahmadali Hoit, the deputy leader of the opposition Islamic Revival Party, also criticized the reshuffle, stating to news agency AsiaPlus.tj that “appointment of new personnel must be based upon principles of professionalism because only skilled managers will be able to bring the country out of the lingering economic, financial, and political stagnation.”

Unfortunately, when the government is solely appointed by the president and its defining character is loyalty, it is unaccountable to the public. This alienates the government from public needs and encourages public disillusionment. Despite prevailing apathy, several local experts have noted some new trends in the current government reorganization. For one, there are more women in government than usual, with as many as eight appointed as deputy heads of various departments. Most notably, the position of First Deputy Prime Minister was assigned to Matluba Davlatova. Another new feature is the disregard for the so-called “regionalism factor.” The appointed heads of the regions used to be locals; the new appointments are not, as was noted by political expert Abdugani Mamadazimov.

The reshuffle of government officials has become a regular practice at the beginning of the year. The president publicly criticizes government officials, tearing some of them to pieces verbally, while they report back with their heads down. Meanwhile, little changes and the economic hardships persist, making people's lives an unbearable agony and forcing many to search for income elsewhere. According to official data, remittances sent home by Tajiks working in Russia comprised as much as 45 percent of Tajikistan’s GDP in 2011. The governmental reshuffle and the ostentatious wrap-up session will hardly ease people’s lives. It is likely that the rotational changes are part of the president's effort to keep and promote loyal members of his party. Also, it is a way to keep his inner circle of loyal people unchanged, but yet provide a sense of some “improvements” and "reorganization" happening inside the government to appease the general public discontent caused by hardship.