Developments put into motion this week are setting the stage for Tajikistan’s irreversible transformation into an autocracy where all power is concentrated in the hands of the president.
On May 22, the country is to hold a referendum to approve amendments to the Constitution that will allow President Emomali Rahmon to run for office indefinitely. Since elections are but a mere formality, the change will in effect allow Rahmon to become a president-for-life.
The existing Constitution limits the president to a two-term limit, but Rahmon is being exempted under the newly enshrined Leader of the Nation title.
Asia-Plus news website reported that the referendum date will be confirmed in parliament on February 10. The legislature is overwhelmingly dominated by the ruling National Democratic Party, while the other deputies all belong to pocket opposition parties.
A few other provisions are envisioned. Amendments to Article 28 of the Constitution, which regulates the creation of political parties, will bar the formation of parties on a religious or atheist basis. That could potentially presage not just the return in a different form of a party built from the ashes of the banned Islamic Renaissane Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), but even the toothless Communist Party, which has two seats in the lower house of parliament.
The role of parties is in any case to be devalued in accordance with a change to Article 1 of the Constitution, which will, once the referendum is approved, designate Tajikistan as a presidential system, according to a draft seen by EurasiaNet.org.
The age limit barring a number of high offices to candidates below the age of 35 is to be lowered to 30. The presidency is among those posts, which has given rise to speculation that Rahmon’s dauphin, 29-year old Rustam Emomali, is being groomed for the top job in time for the 2020 election. Tajikistan’s citizens are being spoiled for choice as to which member of the family will get to rule them.
The age limit is also being lowered for parliamentary candidates, judges in the Supreme, Constitutional and Higher Economic Courts.
The Justice Council of Tajikistan, which draws up candidates for courts across varying levels and regions, is to be scrapped.
The new-look Constitution was given the seal of approval by the Constitutional Court on February 4.
“The presented amendments and additions in their totality fulfill the highest values of the Constitution and reflect the process of political democratization,” the court declared in a statement.
It is indeed hard to deny that the new Constitution reflects the level of the government’s respect for democracy given the other major development now unfolding in Tajikistan.
On February 9, the Supreme Court began hearings in the trial of 13 leading IRPT members accused of attempting to overthrow the government, among many other things.
Hearings are taking place behind closed doors.
The group stands accused of conspiring with former defense minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda in a supposed armed bid to seize power in early September.
IRPT has since not just been banned, but also designated a terrorist organization — a characterization roundly ignored by the international community.
In a transparent attempt to legally guarantee life sentences for the accused, Rahmon on December 26 hastily pushed through legal amendments intensifying the penalty for violating Article 307 of the criminal court — incitement to the violent overthrow of the constitutional order, one of the offenses under which the IRPT leadership is being tried.