May 23, 2016 / 5:30 AM / 3 years ago

Tajikistan amends constitution to extend Rakhmon's rule

Tajikistan's President Imomali Rakhmon takes oath during his inauguration ceremony in Dushanbe in this November 16, 2013 handout photograph provided by the Press Service of presidential administration of Tajikistan. REUTERS/Press Service of presidential administration of Tajikistan/Handout via Reuters

ALMATY (Reuters) - Tajikistan’s president Imomali Rakhmon will be able to run for an unlimited number of terms after a series of constitutional amendments were backed in a weekend referendum.

The changes won support of 94.5 percent of voters, Central Election Commission chairman Bakhtiyor Khudoyorzoda told reporters on Monday citing preliminary results, adding that turnout was 92 percent.

“May 22 became a historical date in the country’s political life,” he said.

The amendments will allow Rakhmon, head of state since 1992 and president since 1994, to run again when his current term ends in 2020.

The minimum age for presidential candidates was also lowered, so Rakhmon’s elder son Rustam could also run at that time.

Rakhmon enjoys sweeping powers amid a flourishing personality cult, and few doubted that referendum results would show landslide popular support for the proposed amendments.

He keeps a tight lid on dissent, and his power was strengthened last year when the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) was banned after the government accused it of being behind an attempted coup.

A third major change approved by the referendum was a ban on religious political parties, which will prevent the IRPT from being reformed under a new guise.

Tajikistan, the poorest former Soviet republic, is mostly Muslim and its economy depends heavily on Russia, which is in recession. Moscow maintains a military base in the country which borders volatile Afghanistan.

Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by Dmitry Solovyov and Toby Chopra

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