On September 26, a national referendum in Tajikistan resulted in approval of amendments to the country’s Soviet-type constitution. Tajikistan thereby becomes the last of the former Union republics to cast aside the Soviet constitutional heritage. The changes pave the way for the formation of a multiparty system and the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections.
According to returns made public by the Central Electoral Commission, 77 percent of the votes cast were in favor of the proposed changes; the turnout amounted to 92 percent of the eligible voters. The successful holding of the referendum was made possible by an unexpectedly high turnout and approval rate in the Leninabad region, the country’s most populous by far. Approximately fifty observers, including some twenty from the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, monitored the voting but, given their thin ranks, could hardly have guaranteed the integrity of the process. Nevertheless, the amendments probably garnered genuine majorities, in view of their having been negotiated in advance by the government and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO).
Of the twenty-seven amendments on the ballot, three had produced some controversy before the vote. One of these allows the formation of religiously based political parties, which will allow UTO’s main party–the Islamic Rebirth Movement–to operate legally. A further amendment creates a bicameral parliament, one of whose chambers is designed to represent to some extent the interest of regions. This change had been opposed by those who feared that the second chamber might become a focus of regional separatism–a latent problem in Tajikistan. The third controversial change extends the presidential mandate from four to seven years. The extension is tailored to the incumbent President Imomali Rahmonov, whose reelection forms a key part of the bargain made by the government with the opposition. Rahmonov’s Russian protectors had insisted on a new mandate for him.
The presidential election is scheduled to be held on November 6. Rahmonov has the support of official trade union and youth groups–successors to the Soviet-era institutions–and the unofficial support of the Communist Party, whose stance is inspired by traditional loyalty to Moscow. The Islamic Rebirth Movement yesterday nominated Dovlat Usmon as its presidential candidate. Usmon was the chief of staff of UTO forces during the civil war and became trade minister in the reconciliation government which was formed last year. He is a sacrificial candidate, however, given the tacit deal to reelect Rahmonov. For that reason, UTO’s two top leaders, Saidabdullo Nuri and Akbar Turajonzoda, declined to run (Itar-Tass, Asia-Plus, September 26-27).
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