President for life is a step too far

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I tried not to write about this. I really did. Although some of my posts have a political edge to them, I have endeavoured to keep this focussed on the impact for higher education and society in Central Asia. My aim is to keep positive, to look for ways that higher education can be improved so that people in Central Asia can benefit from a good quality university or college education that will help them and help the societies around them.

But in the end my frustration with the latest government news, that the President is now “Leader of the Nation” and has, along with his family, life-long immunity, got the better of me. This feels even more injust during a week when a terrible earthquake hit the Bartang valley in the Pamirs in south-eastern Tajikistan. For those of you outside Central Asia, did you even know about this? It’s unlikely: press coverage has been spartan. As an important aside, you can find out more and help two brilliant initiatives to provide grassroots support at https://www.gofundme.com/helpbartang and http://www.bartang-has-future.com/english/update-severe-earthquake-in-bartang/.

Back to my annoyance. But rather than say any more myself, here’s a sample article from the UK’s Guardian newspaper, sourced from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/11/tajikistan-emomali-rahmon-legal-immunity. Read it and (try not to) weep…

Tajik president and his family to get life-long legal immunity

Emomali Rahmon’s properties also exempt from any proceedings in bill passed by lower house of parliament

Tajik lawmakers have voted to grant the president, Emomali Rahmon, and his family life-long immunity from prosecution, drawing sharp criticism from pro-democracy campaigners.

The parliament’s lower chamber has passed a bill that gives Rahmon the title “Leader of the nation” and officially designates him “the founder of peace and national unity of Tajikistan”.

The authoritarian Rahmon, 63, is a former collective farm chief who has been in power since 1992, a year after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Under the bill, property belonging to both him and his relatives would also be exempt from legal proceedings.

With both chambers of parliament dominated by government supporters, the bill’s approval by the upper house is considered a formality.

Elections in Tajikistan are routinely criticised by international observers and deemed fraudulent by Rahmon’s opponents.

Prominent Tajik human rights activist Oinihol Bobonazarova, who sought to run for president in 2013 but was not allowed on the ballot, said the bill made a “mockery of democracy”.

“Tajikistan positions itself as a democratic country; therefore it must keep on sticking to democratic norms,” she said. “It must be democracy in action, not an imitation of democracy.”

Rahmon has sought to strengthen his grip on the poor, predominantly Muslim country, which borders Afghanistan and has seen hundreds of citizens leave for the Middle East to fight alongside Islamic State militants.

The government banned central Asia’s only registered Islamic party this year after designating it extremist. Leaders of the party, once a major opposition force, have been accused of planning to overthrow the government. The party, which was involved in Tajikistan’s 1992-97 civil war, rejects the accusations.

Lower house speaker Shukurjon Zuhurov said that the law would not contradict what he called “ongoing democratic processes in Tajikistan”, adding that titles such as Leader of the Nation had been given to heads of state in several countries.

The bill is similar to laws in two other central Asian states whose presidents have held power for years and tolerate little dissent.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has enjoyed immunity since 2000 and was designated Leader of the Nation in 2010. The late Turkmen president Saparmurat Niyazov held the title Turkmenbashi (The Leader of All Turkmen) until his death in 2006; his successor, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, is officially called Arkadag – the protector.

One response »

  1. Pingback: A Central Asian year in review | Emma Sabzalieva

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