Tajikstan referendum vote allows President to rule indefinitely
Polls closed in ex-Soviet Tajikistan on 22 May 2016 in a referendum on constitutional changes. 94.5% of votes cast in the referendum backed the 40 constitutional changes including an unlimited term for President Emomali Rahmon. The 63-year-old autocrat has ruled Tajikistan for nearly a quarter of a century. Turnout in the former Soviet Central Asian country was 92% or just over 4 million people.
Tajikistan is a Central Asian country that shares it's borders with Afghanistan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. It's known for its rugged mountains, which are popular for hiking and climbing. Battered by a five-year civil war at the onset of its independence, Tajikistan has struggled with poverty and instability in the two decades since it became its own state in 1991.
Tajikistan is a predominantly Sunni Muslim nation, but the authorities have for years been engaged in a battle against manifestations of perceived excess piousness. Young men are regularly detained for sporting beards and women are forced to cast off veils.
Other amendments include lowering the minimum age required to be elected president from 35 to 30 and a ban on the formation of parties based on religion. The age-limit change could position Rahmon's 28-year-old son, Rustam, for an early succession. Restrictions on political parties come amid the ongoing trial of key members of a banned Islamic party, Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT).
Emomali Rakhmon, a former cotton farm boss, was elected president in 1994. He was re-elected in 1999 for a seven-year term and won a third term in 2006, in an election international observers decried as neither free nor fair. He got a fourth term in 2013. He played a crucial role in the ending the civil war and violence in the 1990s.
No election in Tajikistan has ever been deemed free and fair by most international vote-monitoring organizations. The former Soviet state has recently been the setting of an intense attack against fundamental political and religious freedoms. The Opposition Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan, was declared a terrorist organization following an alleged coup attempt and almost entire leadership has been tried and await lengthy sentences.