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Tajikistan’s presidential elections: future challenges to Rahmon’s power

NDCF - ST Central Asia September 2020
On the 11th of October, Tajikistan will held the presidential elections that will surely legitimize the fifth consecutive term for the current president Emomali Rahmon, becoming the oldest Central Asian president in office, after the resignation of Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan (2019) and the death of Uzbek president Karimov in 2016.
Even if Rahmon benefits of a strong popular support (because he is still recognized as the maker and the guarantor of the current political and social stability following the disastrous civil war in 1994) his growing authoritarianism and the lack of a genuine multipartism have progressively undermined the political and economic evolution of this Central Asian republic.
The registration of several candidates formally shows an apparent multipartism, even if none of them appears so strong to hamper the highly-probable pro-Rahmon plebiscite (at the last presidential in 2013 he obtained 84% of votes). The only existing opposition party (the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, that played a significant role during the peace agreement in 1997) was outlawed by the Supreme Court in 2015, being allegedly blamed to plot a coup d’état together with Islamist terrorist linked to the Islamic State, while the Social Democratic Party, an extremely weak and marginal but somewhat oppositional group, has declined to nominate a candidate.
Moreover, the Central Election Commission refused the candidature of Faromuz Irgashev (officially unable to collect the required 200.000 endorsement signatures by the deadline), a young lawyer that could be a real opponent to Rahmon as a representative of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO). This is one of the most sensitive areas in Central Asia in security terms where the Tajik central government fails to extend its control and authority (“Interview with Tajikistan’s would-be youthful change candidate”, Eurasianet, September 14, 2020).
Rahmon’s candidature has currently frozen the presidential ambition of his son Rustam Emomali, mayor of Dushanbe, even if Rahmon supported some constitutional changes aimed to pave the way for Rustam’s future election as President of Tajikistan: the 2016 constitutional referendum lowered the age for candidate eligibility from 35 to 30 years (Rustam is 32 years old). Moreover, he became speaker of the Parliament in April 2020, a position that would allow him to take over from Rahmon if the president dies or is unable to fulfil his duties.
Considering that Tajikistan granted to Rahmon the title of “Leader of the Nation”, he will be able to influence decisions in foreign and domestic policy also in the case of a potential succession.
In the next years, one of the main challenges for Rahmon will be to balance the Chinese growing economic influence in Tajikistan with Russia’s traditional leverage, that is the main political and security partner for Dushanbe. Tajikistan has become a relevant recipient of Chinese investments to finance Belt and Road Initiative-projects, consequently pushing Beijing to increase military cooperation with Dushanbe in order to protect investments and infrastructures.

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