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The consequences of Tajik Constitution’s “funerals”: Interview with Temur Varki

Temur Varki, known Tajik journalist and poet. Photo: catoday.org

A referendum of constitutional amendments is to be held in Tajikistan on May 22. The amendments, if supported, indeed, will enable President Emomali Rahmon who has been heading the country since 1992 to run for president for as many terms as he will want.   Another, not less important amendment, will reduce the minimum age required to be elected president from 35 to 30 years.  This will give the president’s son – Rustam Emomali – an opportunity to run for president as early as in 2020, if his father decides to retire. Last year, Rahmon received the title “Leader of the Nation.”

International assessments of what is taking place in Tajikistan vary significantly. For instance, Deputy Head of the CIS Executive Committee Vladimir Garkun who heads the Commonwealth’s Observation Mission at the referendum in Tajikistan is sure that the “referendum will be held in conformity with the country’s legislation and will further contribute to Tajikistan’s development.” Meantime, Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, believes that de-facto pursuing retention of his personal power, Emomali Rahmon has put himself in an intricate political situation. Frankly speaking, the EU’s assessments are more consistent with the reality than the usual “biased” assessments of the CIS functionaries.

Temur Varki, an expert from France, Tajik by origin, speaks with EADaily about the upcoming referendum, the situation in the country and possible consequences of the Constitutional Amendments.

The referendum outcome appears to be predetermined. Or, maybe a sensation is still possible.

The referendum will be “a success” and the amendments will be “approved” by about 90% or even more voters. The turnout will be above 80%, though by my personal assessments up to 30% of the citizens are not in the country temporarily or left it many years ago. This indicator of the World Bank and RISS (Russian Institute of Strategic Studies) is about 40%. No preparations for the participation of the 800,000, if not more, labor-migrants from Tajikistan in Russia in “the nationwide referendum” have been observed. In March 2016,  the Federal Migration Service registered 863,426 citizens of Tajikistan (706,896 men and 156,530 women).  Inclusive of the non-registered migrants, the number of the Tajik voters in Russia can reach 1 million people. In addition, in 2014, 1,300,000 citizens of Tajikistan having also the Russian citizenship lived in Russia on a permanent basis. On a conservative estimate, there could be 1,100,000-1,300,000 citizens of Tajikistan in Russia. Another 100,000 citizens of Tajikistan are in Kazakhstan. It is hard to say how many Tajik voters are currently in the far remote countries.  Actually, up to 1.5 million out of 4.5 million voters can be outside the country in the spring-autumn season.

It should be noted that more than 70% of Tajikistan’s population are rural residents, mostly women, children and elderly people.  It is hard to find a family having no migrant workers in Russia either seasonal or permanent ones.  The situation has not changed much even with the crisis and the ban for 300,000 citizens of Tajikistan from entering Russia. Every deported migrant sends his son or brother to earn for living outside the country.  The political crisis deteriorates the disastrous economic situation even more.  Repressions against the opposition, persecutions of lawyers and journalists have sparked a new wave of migration from the country.  Now, they migrate not only to Russia, but also to the East and West.

There are no doubts that at the upcoming “referendum,” the anti-constitutional amendments to the Constitution of the country will be approved amid countrywide fear and policing. I suppose that as usually the observers from the CIS will not find any serious violations, as they are in the common post-Soviet paradigm of unlimited power and paternalism.    With open eyes, they will call that non-democratic and non-transparent undertaking as the cost of stability in such an important region on the border with Afghanistan.  

Is there any political opposition left in the country after the activity of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) was banned?

Domestic opposition in Tajikistan, the main legal and negotiable force of which was IRPT, has been disintegrated and scattered. With such demonstrative punishment the president posed as the adult in the room. However, I think these actions of the Tajik leadership will do an ill service to their country, neighbors and partners.  The opposition has been actually driven to underground.  Arrests, imprisonments, and discrediting of the opposition leaders will not bring the cherished fruits to Rahmon and his partners. No reasonable owner, engineer or irrigator will explode the Nurek dam. Meantime, by banning the IRPT, the authorities of Tajikistan have destroyed the “gate” that kept the Tajik youth from being radicalized and involved into extremist and terrorist organizations.  

Now, the IRPT leaders are facing a bulk of accusations by both the authorities and their supporters and those who are dissatisfied with the negotiable and peaceful stance of the Party after the signing of the Inter-Tajik Agreement of Peace and National Accord in the Kremlin on June 27 1997 that put an end to the most bloody war in the post-Soviet area in 1992-1997.  The current “referendum” is the final blow upon that Agreement signed by Sayyid Abdulloh Nuri, the then leader of the IRPT.

Does the current period in Tajikistan really resemble the situation prior to the war of 1992?

Emomali Rahmon whom the Tajik propaganda and parliament promote as “the father of peace and accord” has undermined that peace agreement. The situation is back to May 1992 when the civil war broke out in Tajikistan. Then the Taliban approached the border of Tajikistan.   Now, they are again in the near border regions and stand ready to return to Kabul. It is strange that the Russian diplomacy thinks it necessary to negotiate with the Taliban and closes eyes on the liquidation of the moderate opposition in Tajikistan. Tomorrow, Tajikistan’s own “Taliban” but a Salafi – oriented one may emerge on this bank of Panj.  

It should be recalled that the UN and OSCE, as well as the countries-guarantors of the Agreement of June 27 1997 brokered by Iran, Afghanistan, the countries of the region, Russia, first of all, undertook a series of responsibilities and commitments then.  Brokered by the Russian diplomats Yevgeny Primakov, Anatoliy Adamishin, Boris Pastukhov and others, a great work was carried out to reconcile the sides – Emomali Rahmon’s government and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), the key personnel of which was the IRPT. UTO was managed by the leadership of the IRPT, which has been ban and called an extremist organization now. How many Russian soldiers fell then as Emomali Rahmon refused to stop war and negotiate?  Today, the Russian 201st military base in Tajikistan is that very force Emomali Rahmon will again hide behind after leading the situation to a new bloodshed.

Is Russia ready to pay such a price again, to step into the same river twice, and then manage hotbeds near its borders and take new flows of refugees?  Is Russia ready to let Rahmon hide behind its soldiers and involve it into a new bloody conflict?  Indulging Rahmon’s tyranny may turn costly to Russia that will have to liquidate the fire he is blowing in the region.

What specific risks may the Tajik authorities, Emomali Rahmon, the Central Asian region and Russia face?

Well, the “referendum” in Tajikistan is inherently de-legitimization of Emomali Rahmon’s already doubtful power. The incumbent president endangers the legitimacy of his own power by making anti-constitutional and illegal amendments to the Constitution.  Another important detail is that the amended Constitution will no longer be the Basic Law. It will be the funerals of the Tajik Constitution (one of the most democratic ones in the post-Soviet area) – the last bulwark before shifting from the imitation of democracy to the final and unlimited dictatorship.

What will be the consequences of this de-legitimization or a step towards self-liquidation of Emomali Rahmon’s power?

I anticipate tensions between the clans and the machinery involving security agencies. Inherently, any rebellious colonel or general will have the right to blame Rahmon for high treason and anti-constitutional seizure, usurpation of power, as well as to arrest and overthrow him. The groups around Emomali Rahmon will not let his son Rustam Emomali to come to power. There will be a series of assassination attempts and coups. Illegitimate, self-contradictory authorities will have to search for and find new internal enemies, which will not contribute to the stability in the country and the region. There will be a new wave of refugees, mostly to Russia.

The illegitimate, self-contradictory authorities of Tajikistan may prove helpless before the territorial claims of the neighbor-countries – China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and become attractive and accessible for the attacks by Afghanistan.  Tajikistan may turn into either ghetto with foreign military-political management or a revolving door, a zone of the lost state control.  To prevent such scenarios, it is necessary to restore the rule of Constitution and make a fair public agreement.

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