Tajikistan: President Clings to Power

A campaign appears to be underway to persuade the Tajik people that they can't do without Rakhmonov's leadership.

Tajikistan: President Clings to Power

A campaign appears to be underway to persuade the Tajik people that they can't do without Rakhmonov's leadership.

Tajik president Imomali Rakhmonov seems to be planning a second term in office, in contravention of the republic's constitution.

A source close to the presidential administration has told IWPR circles close to Rakhmonov - who has four years left in power - is working on a campaign to prepare the public for the move.

According to the 1999 constitution, the president can only serve one seven-year term. To get around this, the authorities could either hold a referendum on extending his term in office or amend the constitution to allow him to stand again in 2006.

Local analysts believe that the latter is the more likely result. "This choice is the most acceptable, because it is less authoritarian," said one political commentator, who did not want to be named.

Tajikistan is the poorest of Central Asia's former Soviet republics, and is very dependent on foreign aid. The leadership is therefore reluctant to do anything that the international community may view as undemocratic.

The main argument expected to be used for re-electing Rakhmanov - who has led the country ever since independence - is that he brought peace to the country, and maintained stability in the aftermath of the bloody 1992-97 civil war, which killed more than 100,000 people and left the economy in ruins.

When asked about the legality of electing Rakhmonov for a second term, presidential aid Mansur Saifitdinov said, "He has to lead us, because he is able to solve problems in the interests of peace, the people and the country."

The first signs of the start of the campaign were the recent articles in the government and independent media proposing that Rakhmonov be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work over the last decade.

Even the Russian newspaper Nezavismaya gazeta - previously one of Rakhmonov's harshest critics - has published several items this year that give a positive assessment of the president's policies.

While the head of state succeeded in establishing peace in his country, he has found post-war problems far tougher to solve.

Rakhmonov is still trying to rebuild the economy, and lure back the hundreds of thousands of Tajik migrants who left the republic for other countries - mostly in Russia - in search of work.

The economic situation within Tajikistan is so desperate that Rakhmonov is unlikely to face criticism for attempting to cling to power. His people are exhausted and demoralised after the civil war, and wish only for stability.

Opposition and political activists are unlikely to be so pliant, but their presidential contenders are unlikely to threaten Rakhmonov.

One politician named as a possible challenger is exiled Abumalik Abdullojanov, who was prime minister of Tajikistan from 1992-94. A supporter, who did not want to be named, told IWPR that Abdullojanov was a strong contender because he enjoyed the backing of Russia's influential industrial lobby.

The ex-premier was charged with committing crimes while in office, and analysts believe that he will be unable to clear his name in time to contest the 2006 elections.

The Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan - the only real opposition party in the country - is also expected to put one of its members forward. But as most Tajiks still blame the IRPT for starting the civil war, it is unlikely that any of their candidates would stand a chance.

Many Central Asian leaders have extended their terms in office held onto power.

One Turkmenistan's Saparmurat Niazov, or Turkmenbashi as he likes to be known, went one better and declared himself president for life in August.

Abdukholik Rakhmatullaev is an independent journalist in Dushanbe

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