The Tajik government prepares to introduce a constitutional reform process which, according to analysts, will alter the country’s political system, possibly paving the way for President Rahmon’s son to succeed him as the country’s leader in 2020.
On February 13, the head of the government-run Strategic Research Centre (SRC) Suhrob Sharipov told Radio Ozodi that the SRC had developed a series of amendments to the country’s constitution from 1994 and submitted them to the president’s office for review. Sharipov suggested that the proposed amendments aimed at transforming Tajikistan’s “governing structure” to bring it in line with “modern trends and realities”.
The announcement of the imminent reform was apparently not cleared with the country’s leadership. On February 14, the day after the announcement, Sharipov’s deputy, Sayfullo Safarov, denied that his boss had ever discussed possible constitutional amendments with the media. Safarov said the SRC was not aware of any government plans to amend the country’s constitution. “Ideas about potential amendments to certain provisions of the constitution have been extensively discussed by media over the last several years”, he said. These ideas included introducing constitutional safeguards against nepotism and regional favoritism, and amending education-related articles, following the country’s shift to a 12-year education system. However, Safarov stressed, these were “just ideas”.
Following Safarov’s statement, Radio Ozodi removed its February 13 report from the web-site. According to a journalist working for the radio, the report was removed following a telephone call from the SRC, suggesting that it was “not the right time” to discuss constitutional reforms.
The prominent Tajik journalist Rajab Mirzo says the constitutional reform plan has indeed been discussed by the government. Mirzo believes that the president’s office will unveil the plan and initiate a referendum to amend the constitution after the country celebrates the 20th anniversary of its independence in September 2011. According to Mirzo, the existence of a government plan to initiate a constitutional reform might explain the president’s recent effort to reshuffle the Central Commission for Elections and Referenda (CCER), the country’s chief body responsible for organizing and holding elections and public referenda.
Although there is no information at the moment about the imminent constitutional reform apart from Sharipov’s prediction of changes in the country’s “governing structure,” analysts describe several possible changes that the reform might bring about. First, the amendments might lower the minimum age required for a presidential candidate, allowing President Rahmon’s oldest son, Rustam Emomali, to run for president in 2020. Rahmon has been Tajikistan’s leader since 1993. Constitutional amendments introduced in June 2003 entitled Rahmon to seek reelection for two additional seven-year terms, starting from 2006. There is little doubt in Tajikistan that Rahmon will easily be reelected in 2013 and will stay in office until 2020.
Rahmon’s continuous promotion of Rustam has led many observers and journalists to believe that the president is preparing for his son to succeed him in office. Rustam, who is now 23, has already worked as a department head in the State Committee of Investments and State Property, deputy chief of Tajikistan’s youth union, and a member of the Dushanbe city council. In March, Rustam was appointed head of the Tajik Custom Service’s department to combat illegal activities. At the same time, state media launched a massive campaign portraying Rustam as a major benefactor who builds houses for people displaced by natural disasters and sponsors circumcision ceremonies for children from poor families.
The current constitution sets the minimum age requirement for a presidential candidate to 35. Rustam will only be 33 in 2020, when president Rahmon completes the two terms permitted by the current constitution. Therefore, it is widely expected that the upcoming constitutional amendments will remove the minimum age requirement or lower it.
At the same time, it is hard to imagine at the moment that President Rahmon, who will be 68 years old in 2020, will retire at that age when many of his colleagues in the post-Soviet Central Asia continue to dominate their country’s politics. Therefore, the second major change that the constitutional reform might bring about is a special status for Tajikistan’s first president. Such a status could for instance allow Rahmon to participate in major national decisions after retiring as president and guarantee legal immunity for himself and his family. This arrangement will help Rahmon to slowly loosen his grip on power, while his son matures as the country’s next leader.
It remains to be seen whether the government will go ahead with the constitutional reform plan after the celebration of Tajikistan’s 20th anniversary of independence. After all, events in neighboring Kyrgyzstan and the Arab world might have warned the president’s family against engineering a hereditary succession type of power transition in the country in an overly blatant fashion.
(By Alexander Sodiqov, CACI Analyst, April 13, 2011)