Tajikistan referendum could change Central Asian politics

May 21, 2016 9:30 pm

People wave Tajik flags in front of a poster depicting ’s President Emomali Rakhmon. (AFP)

The Central Asian nation of Tajikistan is set to take part in a referendum Sunday that could significantly shift the fate of the strategic state.
The key item in Sunday’s vote on a series of amendments could keep President Emomali Rahmon in power for the rest of his life and pave the way for his son to become the future leader.
Tajikistanis will only be asked if they agree with the 41 proposed amendments to the constitution.
According to analysts, the game changer amendment is in regard to elimination of term limits for Rahmon, who was branded as “Founder of Peace and National Unity, Leader of the Nation” by the parliament in December 2015.
Controlled by the pro-government People’s Democratic Party, the parliament gave a series of privileges to the long-time leader, including veto powers and immunity to persecution, paving the way for the referendum.
The amendments would also lower the eligibility age for presidential hopefuls from 35 to 30, which, observers say, could lead to candidacy by his older son, Rustam Emomali, at the end of the president’s current term in 2010.
Another key amendment could end in removal of the outlawed Islamic Revival Party, which the government accuses of engagement in terrorism.
The 63-year-old leader, who assumed office in 1994, has been slammed by his critics for referendums, giving him more power with this being the third one since liberation from the Soviet Union.
Dushanbe argues, however, that the elections are held democratically and are open to international observers.

Local Tajikistani residents queue to enter a voting booth during a vote in a polling station in Dushanbe in March 2015. (AFP)

“In accordance with norms of the constitutional law on referendum, Tajik central electoral commission has issued a resolution on accreditation of international observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the CIS Parliamentary Assembly, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and diplomatic missions active in the country for the constitutional referendum,” an official source at the Central Commission for Elections and Referenda told-Plus.
Holding referendums mostly in favor of giving more powers to the executive branches is a common phenomenon in the region.
Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan have previously made similar moves.
Some opposition figures have already called for boycotting the vote. This is while many experts expect the long-time leader to emerge victorious on May 22.
Leading Tajikistan through a civil war, Rahmon survived one assassination and two coup attempts in the late 1990s.
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