Tajikistan: Constitutional Reform Bolstering One-Man Rule Looming

Tajikistan’s slide toward a one-party, family-run order is picking up momentum, even as analysts warn of possible imminent instability.

Asia-Plus news website reported on January 11 that a secret draft bill is in the works to make significant changes to the constitution. The amendments could be put up for a referendum, the website said.

Sources have told EurasiaNet.org that the modifications under review envision banning political parties espousing either religious or atheist views.

The only party embracing a religious identity, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, was already banned in September and has since been designated a terrorist organization.

But the the atheist component of the proposed constitutional reform appears possibly designed to sideline the Communist Party of Tajikistan, which holds two deputies in parliament. The Communist Party has rarely constituted an actual opposition force in Tajikistan, but it is regarded with suspicion all the same.

The current constitution also does not allow for the Leader of the Nation title bestowed last month upon President Emomali Rahmon. Accordingly, that will be amended, and details about Rahmon’s immunity from prosecution and post-rule benefits will be outlined, EurasiaNet.org’s source said.

One more crucial area possibly to undergo review involves the lower age limit for pretenders to the presidency, which currently bars anybody under the age of 35 from running. As things stand, the most likely successor to Emomali Rakhmon would be legally prevented from taking up the post at the next presidential election, in 2020.

“It is no secret that Rustam Emomali, Emomali Rahmon’s eldest son, is being groomed as the successor. The evidence for that is his career trajectory, which saw him being appointed a general at the age of 26. But in 2020, he will only be 33 years old,” one expert, who asked to remain anonymous because of the political sensitivity of the issue, told EurasiaNet.org. “So my guess is that the referendum will go through, so as to lay the ground for the eldest son.”

Then again, Rahmon could now rule in perpetuity. Under proposed changes, the Leader of the Nation would be exempt from term limits, so he may be allowed to run as many times as he pleases.

Tajikistan has an extensive experience of amending its constitution by referendum.

The original founding law was itself approved by a public vote in 1994. Amendments were approved in 1999 and 2003 following other referenda.

The reforms in 1999 ushered in a two-chamber parliament, which was a precondition of the all-Tajik agreement that sealed the end to the civil war of the 1990s. In 2003, the constitution was changed to increase the president’s term from five to seven years — a fix that allowed Rahmon to stand for another two terms, taking him up until 2020.

The International Crisis Group on January 11 published a report urging the international community — namely Russia and the United States — to encourage Rahmon to pursue a transition to increasingly representative rule after his term is up. 

“The West should encourage Dushanbe and Moscow to negotiate a way forward toward more accountable governance that ultimately prepares an orderly transition in the interest of regional stability,” the reported recommended.

The ICG report was sanguine about the likelihood for success in that endeavor and warned of the costs of failure.

“However, it will not be easy for any actor to prompt reform, and in its absence, the West, Russia and Tajikistan’s neighbours should prepare for a difficult, potentially violent political transition.”

Tajikistan: Constitutional Reform Bolstering One-Man Rule Looming

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