DUSHANBE (Reuters) - Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon said on Friday that he was embarrassed by the lavish receptions local officials laid on for him around the country and has ordered the “toadyism” to stop.
Tajikistan, a Muslim Central Asian nation of 7.5 million, shares long mountainous borders with Aghanistan and China and is the poorest of the 15 ex-Soviet nations.
The economy hinges on revenues from aluminium and cotton exports and remittances from around 1 million migrant workers. Official data show that cash sent home by Tajiks working in Russia stood at $2.96 billion in 2011, 45 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.
Despite the grinding poverty, local officials often go to great lengths to greet the president when he visits.
They order expensive repairs to the roads that Rakhmon’s motorcade will take, plant trees along the roadside that he is said to like, routinely have children skip school so they can greet him with handfuls of rose petals and build elaborate canopies for him to make his speeches from.
“I feel ashamed of your toadyism,” an enraged Rakhmon told a government meeting in remarks broadcast by state television.
“Ordinary people, residents of the towns and districts where I come on working visits, keep complaining to me: ‘They empty our pockets on your every trip...gathering money for a tribute, a carpet, a rug, flowers and feasts’.”
“What’s that? Stop it! I don’t need any of this.”
Rakhmon, a 59-year-old former state farm director who wields vast power and has run the nation for two decades, is known for cracking down on what he calls radical Islamists who he says threaten Tajikistan’s existence as a secular state.
His opponents argue that it is the abject poverty and state repression which actually push many young Tajiks to seek consolation in radical Islam.
Rakhmon’s critics accuse him of amending the constitution to suit his personal ambitions and extend his stay in power. His current, third presidency is due to end in November 2013, after which he can seek to run for another seven years.
In 2009 he decreed that all posters featuring local officials posing alongside him be destroyed. Posters nationwide mostly now only feature Rakhmon.
He has also urged his impoverished people to hold more modest ceremonies and limit the number of guests and price of dishes at traditional Tajik wedding parties and funeral repasts.
Reporting by Roman Kozhevnikov; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov, editing by Paul Casciato