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Tajikistan: Young Tajiks Suffer From a Lack of Information (Part 3)

Tajikistan holds parliamentary elections on 27 February. The vote is widely viewed as a gauge of the country's progress in building democracy. Observers say conditions have improved since the last vote in 2000, but they point out that one problem remains the country's young people. Tajiks in their late teens and twenties appear to have little interest in the elections.

Prague, 24 February 2005 (RFE/RL) - Tajik students themselves blame a lack of information on the election.

One university student had this to say to RFE/RL's Tajik Service: "I am studying at the state university foreign languages department. I don't have any information about the elections and I don't know who [the candidates] are. If you ask my colleagues about the elections they wouldn't know either."

There's been relatively little campaigning and election-related information available through the mass media has been limited. Power cuts have cut down the amount of television that people watch and many people cannot afford newspapers.

IFES, a U.S.-based group that supports elections in transition countries, last fall conducted an opinion survey in Tajikistan. The survey showed that most people have almost no information about the elections.
"Maybe one of the reasons for the little interest among youth is the fact that compared to the ruling party, other parties are not very strong and do not have much power."

Anthony Bowyer, the program manager for IFES in Central Asia, spoke to RFE/RL from Dushanbe.

"Many questions were asked of all segments of the population, but particularly among younger persons, who responded that they don't have information," Bowyer said. "And I think it goes hand in hand with their level of interest in politics and we have this phenomenon in other countries as well, including the U.S. I think...they may feel that their vote doesn't count or [do not] fully realize the implications of the upcoming elections."

Rashid Ghani, a political analyst in Dushanbe, blamed the lack of a strong political opposition as contributing to the distance young people feel from the political process.

"Maybe one of the reasons for the little interest among youth is the fact that compared to the ruling party, other parties are not very strong and do not have much power," Ghani said. "[Also] in Tajikistan, like in the majority of CIS countries, important changes in the country depend mostly on the presidency. The parliament is second place, so it doesn't play a major role in resolving important issues. Because of that, society is paying more attention to the presidential elections."

Ghani said many young Tajiks are busy with day-to-day problems, such as finding jobs. Others said the psychological scars left by the country's five-year civil war in the 1990s are contributing to the apathy.

Ghani said, however, that he believes in the future the younger generation will become a driving force for the democratization.

"The youth, especially those who were born after the fall of the Soviet Union, after some time, maybe by the next election, will become a major force in society and will be the main competitors," Ghani said. "And maybe during the next elections their number will grow, especially if political parties that [exist] today...strengthen their position in the political scene."

One development that could bring more young people to politics is the growth of youth-oriented non-governmental organizations.

Several international organizations are conducting education and motivation campaigns with the aim of raising political awareness among Tajikistan's youth and convincing them they can make a difference. Bowyer of IFES said such programs will have an impact.

"You have a generation of future citizens who are the majority and, should multiparty democracy succeed in Tajikistan and other countries, those young persons would have to be engaged in the process," Bowyer said. "If not they could be subject to other influences that may be less democratic. And I think as there are education campaigns underway right now to educate the population [about] what the parliament does -- what are its rights and its duties to the citizens -- there will be increasingly a higher demand placed on the work and results of work of those parliamentarians."

Some young Tajik voters are already calling for democratic changes.

One young Tajik man said he will cast his vote on 27 February with the hope that officials will pay more attention to the needs of the younger generation.

"I would like to vote so that in the future our country becomes more developed, more advanced and democratic, [I will vote] so that the government pays attention to education and [to the needs] of the children and us youngsters who are the future generation," he said.

Preliminary results in the vote are expected on 28 February.

(RFE/RL Tajik Service correspondent Khiromon Bakoeova contributed to this report.)

[For more on the elections in Tajikistan, see our dedicated Tajikistan Votes 2005 webpage. For more on the region, see our Central Asia webpage.]
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

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