Tajik parliament considers unlimited terms for president

ALMATY (Reuters) - Tajikistan’s parliament is considering a proposal to allow President Imomali Rakhmon to run for an unlimited number of terms, cementing his grip on power as others have done in the Central Asian region.

The government has submitted to parliament, controlled by Rakhmon’s supporters, a package of amendments to the constitution which will ultimately need to be approved by a referendum.

The amendments have not been published officially, but the draft, seen by Reuters, includes a provision that lifts the limit of two consecutive presidential terms for Rakhmon, citing his special status as the “Leader of the Nation”, a title given to him by the legislature last month.

Another proposed amendment would reduce the minimum age for presidential candidates to 30 from 35. Rakhmon’s elder son, Rustam Imomali, is 28 and will be 33 when his father’s current term ends in 2020.

Rakhmon, 63, who was a state farm boss in the Soviet era, has gradually consolidated his power during 23 years of rule over the predominantly Muslim nation of eight million that went through a 1992-97 civil war in which tens of thousands died.

The main opposition force, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, failed to win any seats in parliament in the election last March and has since been outlawed by Rakhmon’s government, with its leaders accused of plotting a coup.

Constitutional changes and a referendum have already allowed Rakhmon to successfully run for president four times, most recently in 2013, when he was re-elected for a seven-year term. Under the current version of the constitution, he will not be able to run for another term.

Another ex-Soviet Central Asian republic, Kazakhstan, adopted similar amendments to its constitution in 2007, allowing President Nursultan Nazarbayev to run for an unlimited number of terms. Uzbek President Islam Karimov has also sidestepped the two-term limit through constitution changes and referendums.

Such moves have drawn criticism from their opponents and Western governments. But they did not result in any serious diplomatic pressure as former Soviet overlord Russia and the West compete for influence in the region which sits on large mineral reserves and borders volatile Afghanistan.

A spokesman for Tajikistan’s parliament on Thursday confirmed that it had received the draft document from the government, but declined to comment on its contents.

Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Nick Macfie