People in Tajikistan have overwhelmingly approved changes to the constitution which allow, among other things, the incumbent president to run for an unlimited number of terms.
According to a statement released by the country’s Central Election Commission (CEC) on Monday, results of Sunday’s crucial constitutional referendum showed that 94.5 percent of voters endorsed the 40 amendments, while only 3.3 percent were against them.
The Central Asian republic also saw a massive turnout on Sunday as 92 percent of the eligible voters, or just over four million people, cast their ballots.
Tajiks had to decide on a single question on the ballot paper that read “Do you support the amendments and additions to the constitution of the country?”
The 63-year-old Emomali Rahmon, who was branded as “Founder of Peace and National Unity, Leader of the Nation” by the loyal parliament in December 2015, can now rule over his country as long as he wishes, providing that Tajiks will elect him in the future presidential elections.
The term limit amendment also grants Rahmon and his family permanent immunity from criminal prosecution.
The amendments, drafted by a loyal parliament, would also lower the eligibility age for presidential hopefuls from 35 to 30, a proposal that, observers say, could lead to an early succession for his older son, Rustam Emomali, at the end of the president’s current term in 2020.
Critics, however, say Rahmon has increasingly been disregarding religious freedoms, civil society and political pluralism in recent years. They believe the constitutional changes will deteriorate the condition as one of the key amendments demands a ban on religion-based parties.
This amendment could also end in removal of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), which the government accuses of involvement in terrorism. The party, however, was widely viewed as moderate before Dushanbe branded it a terrorist group last year.
Rahmon, who enjoys a substantial public support, began leading the country in 1992 shortly after Tajikistan gained independence from the Soviet Union.