Rakhmon's fifth term: Tajikistan′s eternal ruler preserves his power

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

Source : 112 Ukraine

The results of the presidential elections were summed up in Tajikistan. The incumbent president, Emomali Rahmon, was re-elected for a fifth term, and over 90% of citizens voted for him with a turnout of over 70%. He has permanently ruled the post-Soviet republic since 1992. There are several reasons for the political longevity of 68-year-old Rakhmon and the absence of large-scale anti-government protests in Tajikistan, as in Belarus and Kyrgyzstan
11:19, 5 May 2021

Emomali Rahmon, President of Tajikistan

Favorite of the Kulyab clan

Tajikistan, like any other Central Asian country, is characterized by clannishness in social and political life and business. Power and resources are under the control of the most influential and powerful clan or group of clans that create political parties for themselves. Former director of the state farm Emomali Rahmon belongs to the Kulyab clan (from the name of the region of the same name), whose representatives since Soviet times have made a career in the army and other power structures and held leading positions in government bodies and at enterprises.

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The precondition for Rakhmon's coming to power was the 1992-1997 civil war between supporters of the secular state and religious extremists from the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan and the United Tajik Opposition, who enjoyed the support of residents of Garm, Kurgan-Tyube, Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region and enjoyed the support of the Afghan mujahideen.

After representatives of the United Tajik Opposition secured the resignation of President Rahmon Nabiyev in 1992, representatives of the Kulyab clan, including the former criminal Sangak Safarov, the commander of the special purpose brigade of the Ministry of Defense of the Republic Faizali Saidov and lawyer Safarali Kenjaev, founded the military-political organization People front of Tajikistan ", which included many military men, militiamen, special services workers. The Kulyab clan agreed on a partnership with the Hissar and Sogdian clans, local Uzbeks. Together they managed to fight back the Islamists. They were supported by Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.

One of Safarov's supporters, Rakhmon, was appointed chairman of the government of Tajikistan, and in 1994 he won the presidential elections. By 1997, the United Tajik Opposition had been defeated. The radicals fled to Afghanistan, and the more moderate Islamists made a deal with the government and concluded a peace agreement brokered by the UN. They received 30% of seats in government agencies, leadership positions in enterprises, and their militants were integrated into the armed forces of Tajikistan.

Islamist threat

Rahmon was perceived as a hero of the civil war who saved the republic from the fate of neighboring Afghanistan, where the radical Islamists of the Taliban came to power in 1996, who created an unrecognized Islamic emirate, and drove Afghans into the dark Middle Ages. On this wave, Rahmon was re-elected for a second term in the 1999 presidential elections. The fears of the Tajik society of a new civil war, revenge of the Islamists for decades have allowed Rahmon to suppress the opposition and strengthen his regime. The civil war in Tajikistan is the bloodiest armed conflict in the post-Soviet space, which claimed the lives of up to 150 thousand people and caused damage to the economy in the amount of $ 7 billion. No Tajik, regardless of political preferences, wants to repeat this meat grinder.

The backbone of the secular regime of the president is the Tajik military, police, and intelligence officers, who enjoy social guarantees and benefits. Despite losses in the context of the coronavirus, Rahmon raised the salaries of security officials by 10% on the eve of the presidential elections. With their help, the president suppresses the riots that his opponents periodically raise. In 1997-1998, government forces suppressed three riots by an ethnic Uzbek colonel Mahmud Khudoyberdyev, who gained combat experience as a reconnaissance commander in the 1979-1989 Afghan war and did not support either the People's Front of Tajikistan or the Islamists.

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The special services have liquidated the former field commanders of the United Tajik Opposition who controlled the mountainous regions of the country, including the former ex-head of the Ministry of Emergency Situations Mirzo Ziyoyev in 2009 and Mullo Abdullo in 2011. In September 2015, security forces loyal to the president suppressed a mutiny by a member of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan and former Deputy Defense Minister General Abdukhalim Nazarzoda. After this rebellion, Rahmon banned the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, carried out repressions against its members, and cleared the authorities of Islamists. By separate laws, Rahmon limited the influence of Islam in Tajik society: he banned the sending of young men to madrassas (spiritual educational institutions in Iran, the countries of the Persian Gulf, Turkey, and Egypt), and limited trips to the mosque for young people.

No wonder deputy chairman of the Social Democratic Party Shokirjon Khakimov ruled out the likelihood of any protest actions in Tajikistan after the presidential elections. Tajik security forces disperse almost hunger riots. In May 2020, riot police dispersed a speech by Chinese workers of the Tajik-Chinese Mining Company in the city of Zarnisor, who were protesting over delayed wages and a ban on travel to China due to the coronavirus pandemic. This year, criminal cases were initiated against protesters in the villages of the Khatlon region affected by mudflows. Tajiks, who rallied in the Rushan settlement against unemployment, low incomes, high food prices, were accused of creating obstacles to a special operation against criminal groups.

World founder cult

The social and political system in Tajikistan resembles an explosive mixture of the socialist regime and traditional society. Rahmon initiated amendments to the Constitution, which allowed the presidential term to be increased from five to seven years, and the same person could run for the presidency an unlimited number of times. In Tajikistan, there is a personality cult of the president, which resembles the personality cult of the supreme leader of the DPRK, Kim Jong-un, or the president of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. In 2015, Rahmon received the title "Founder of Peace and National Unity - Leader of the Nation". Tajiks call him "Your Excellency", "our savior", and public institutions, streets of all cities are hung with his portraits and quotes. Seven biographical books about the president have been published.

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The President is positioned as a supporter of the revival of Tajik traditions, returned the historical names to some cities, villages, streets, and banned the registration of newborns with Russified surnames. In particular, in 2007 he changed his last name from "Rakhmonov" to "Rakhmon". The President instilled in Tajiks asceticism and economy at the legislative level. It is forbidden in the country to wear gold teeth, celebrate weddings, birthdays, and other holidays in a big way, donate money for sweet tables on September 1, school, and university graduations.

In Tajikistan, there is no real systemic opposition capable of creating real competition for the president and his "People's Democratic Party", except for the controlled opposition party for participation in the elections. The candidates from the "Socialist Party", "Communist Party", "Agrarian Party", "Party of Economic Reforms" do not gain more than 10% of the vote. In the 2013 presidential elections, the situation was generally absurd. Fewer voters voted for some opposition candidates than the number of citizens who collected signatures for them to be nominated.

Any viable political force is subject to repression. The activities of 17 organizations have been banned in Tajikistan, including, in addition to the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda, the Taliban movement, Ansorulloh, Salafiya, and Group 24. Even members of the opposition who live abroad are being persecuted. In March 2015, businessman Umarali Kuvvatov, leader of the opposition political movement Group 24, was killed in Istanbul. The leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, Muhiddin Kabiri, is on the international wanted list. This year, Tajik law enforcement officers detained the son of one of the leaders of the Islamists, Asroriddin Rozikov, and obtained the extradition from Austria of a member of the "Group 24" Hizbullo Shovalizoda.

Corruption and nepotism flourish in the country. Rahmon's seven daughters control the most lucrative industries - the aluminum industry, trade, banking and finance, and the power industry. According to unofficial information, part of the national income settles in Rahmon's offshore accounts. There was information that Rahmon would hand over power in 2020 to his eldest 32-year-old son Rustam Emomali, a former footballer, mayor of Dushanbe, and speaker of the Senate. In 2016, amendments to the Constitution were adopted to reduce the age limit for presidential candidates from 35 to 30 years old.

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According to the Basic Law of Tajikistan, in the event of the death and incapacity of the president, the powers of the head of state are transferred to the speaker of the Senate. However, Rustam Emomali does not look like his eloquent populist father. The people nicknamed him "the great dumb" for his tongue-tied language and unwillingness to appear in public. Rahmon's youngest son, 22-year-old Somon Emomali, graduated from the university last year, and thanks to the patronage of his father, he was appointed deputy general director of the Talco Cable enterprise.

Apparently, the head of state decided to postpone the transfer of power, as the country is going through difficult times. In September, an interstate dispute erupted between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. In September 2019, a shootout took place between the Tajik and Kyrgyz border guards due to the construction work of the Kyrgyz side on an undefined section of the state border.

In Tajikistan, more than 10,000 people from a 9 million population have already fallen ill with Covid-19, and 79 residents have died. Due to closed borders and quarantine, the flow of Tajik labor migrants to Russia has decreased by 40%. The country has lost its main source of income. Remittances from Tajiks working in Russia account for 35% of the country's GDP. The poverty rate in Tajikistan is 20-30%, and in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region - 40% (local residents mainly work in Russia). Since Soviet times, Tajikistan has been considered the least developed and most depressed republic in Central Asia.

Related: Who started it, why, what is happening at all: Answers to questions about the conflict between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan

Geopolitical factors

One gets the impression that Rahmon is fully satisfied with influential countries whose interests overlap in Central Asia. It's all about the geographical location of Tajikistan in the vicinity of unstable Afghanistan, where the bases of the terrorist organizations ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are located. Representatives of the ISIS cell in Afghanistan declared their intentions to expand their influence in the region and create a caliphate. Russia, which borders the region and has problems with Islamic extremists in the North Caucasus, is not interested in this.

Moscow sees Rahmon's regime as a counterweight to radical Islamists and has been providing him with military assistance since the civil war. The 201st military base of the Russian Federation is located in Dushanbe and Bokhtar. Russian soldiers are involved in the protection of the Tajik-Afghan border. In 1993, they repulsed an offensive by the United Tajik Opposition militants and mujahideen from Afghanistan.

Emomali Rahmon and Vladimir Putin
Open source

Moscow and Dushanbe cooperate in the fight against drug trafficking, which passes through the territory of Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries in the direction of Russian cities. In the Pamir mountains, there is the Soviet optoelectronic complex Nurek, used to monitor outer space with the help of telescopes, which became the property of the Russian Space Forces in 2004. Tajikistan is a member of the CSTO.

China is not interested in increasing the influence of radical Islamists in Tajikistan, since the republic borders on the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, where the Chinese security forces are conducting anti-terrorist operations against the "Islamic Movement of East Turkestan." The PRC and Tajikistan are collaborating on the Belt and Road Global Transport and Investment Initiative. Chinese companies have invested $ 2.6 billion in the Tajik economy.

Dushanbe is interested in ensuring energy, communication, and food security. Tajik ethnologist professor Guzel Maitdinova admits the formation of the Amu Darya coalition with the participation of China, Tajikistan, India, and Pakistan to ensure security in the region and enhance trade relations between the countries. In her opinion, this coalition should become a link between the BRICS and SCO organizations. However, for Chinese aid, Rahmon had to give up part of the territory. In 2003, Tajikistan ceded to China a piece of border land with an area of ​​1.100 square km.

Emomali Rahmon and Xi Jinping

The West is pragmatic about the Rakhmon regime, although it criticizes it for violating human rights. The US Department of State considers maintaining stability in Tajikistan as a guarantee of security for the entire Central Asian region. At the beginning of the 2000s, the Tajik authorities allowed the United States to use its airspace and airfields for the transit of goods for the needs of the American military in Afghanistan. America is considered the largest donor to Tajikistan and allocated $ 988.57 million for food purchases and humanitarian needs from 1992 to 2010. In 2018, information was leaked to the media that the United States planned to allocate $ 12.5 million to Tajikistan in military aid and to train 1.200 local special forces soldiers. For the European Union, the Tajik leader is a guarantor of security in the Afghan direction, since, in the event of destabilization of the situation in the republic, drug trafficking will become uncontrollable.

Related: Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan agree on full ceasefire, withdrawal of troops

The example of Tajikistan suggests that, under certain circumstances, Western democracies are ready to turn a blind eye to the usurpation of power, violation of human rights, flourishing corruption, nepotism and the lack of reforms, if the activities of the authoritarian regime are not at odds with their interests. Rahmon managed to sit on three chairs at once and benefit from cooperation with Russia, China, and the United States.

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