Tajikistan Referendum Allows President to Rule Indefinitely

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Referendum results show that over 94 percent of Tajiks approved a change to the constitution allowing President Emomali Rakhmon to run for office indefinitely, according to Business Insider. The international community has long decried Tajikistan’s history of election fraud, however, and the recent results are highly questionable. Rakhmon has ruled the country since 1992.

The move to an institutional dictatorship should come as no surprise when considering Rakhmon’s decades-long rule and no viable opposition to oppose him. The president has made himself an official dictator while establishing a state-sanctioned dynasty, as his 29-year-old son will be eligible to run for president in 2020 due to constitutional changes lowering a presidential age requirement.

Regardless of referendum legitimacy, the public does not have much say in a country that does not tolerate any form of dissent, especially religious freedom. Tajikistan is a predominantly Muslim nation, but has maintained a secular government. Both genders cannot display their faith in public, and men could be detained for having Islamic beards.

The Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan is the primary opposition, but many members have been arrested, and the party itself has been linked to an attempted coup that may have never happened. The referendum also banned Islamic-centered political parties.

Part of the reason why the government is hard on Muslims is because of its shared border with Afghanistan, a nation on the brink of ruin. Tajik authorities rule with an iron fist to prevent the spread of Islamism, but at the cost of personal liberty and press freedoms.

The United States is among the few countries supporting Tajikistan, but only because Rakhmon is an important ally against terrorism and drug trafficking. Even the U.S. is losing patience, however, and Washington designated Tajikistan as a country of concern because of rampant human rights violations.

Despite this, the U.S. will continue aiding the current administration out of fear that a collapse would lead to societal chaos and extremist takeover as seen in Egypt, Libya, and Iraq.

Tajikistan is a poor country with minimal commodity and manufacturing bases, relying on remittance income from around the world, most notably Russia. Tajik leadership will also get a boost from Moscow, as President Vladimir Putin's administration intends to coordinate with Dushanbe, the Tajikistan capital, to stem the flow of drugs coming into Russia, notes TASS.

Rakhmon’s government is in a fragile state, but he knows he can count on the full backing of major powers through military aid and other forms of assistance, and he will continue his totalitarian form of governance without repercussions from Washington and the rest of the world community.