In the first month of 2017, Tajikistan witnessed a major dismissal accompanied by an (un)expected appointment within the ranks of power. The mayor of Dushanbe, Tajikistan`s capital city, was sacked by a Presidential decree. Had such a case happened in a Western country, it would have beenacceptedas something quite ordinary, especially if the dismissed person had served 20 years in office. But in Tajikistan, Central Asia`s landlocked nation, with its own mentality and political culture, that go is more than a discharge. It might be the last move in the struggle of power and signal the completion of transition to a consolidated monarchy-styled regime (still unformally though). 

 

Who was Mahmadsaid Ubaydulloev?

Mahmadsaid Ubaydulloev had been governing Dushanbe for uninterrupted 20 years. Labeled as No. 2 person in Tajikistan, he was reckoned the main rival to the country`s long-time leader Emomali Rahmon.

A typical product of the Soviet party system, Ubaydulloev could make it into higher levels of the power at relatively a younger age in the 1980s. Even after Tajikistan`s emergence as an independent nation as a result of the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Ubaydulloev remained in the government as deputy prime minister and managed to undergo the turbulent years of the civil war unharmed. In 1996, he was appointed mayor of Dushanbe, an office he would hold for another 20 years. Ubaydulloev`s strong links with Moscow gave ground to rumors about him being Russia`s man in Tajikistan. At home and beyond, he was regarded as the sole and most serious person to challenge Emomali Rahmon`s unlimited rule, due to the absence of normal opposition, although he always publicly supported the incumbent president and remained in his shade, satisfied with a modest status of the second person in the country.

 

Ruling family

The present leader, Emomali Rahmon, has been leading Tajikistan de facto since 1992, as president since 1994. Although a military mutiny was launched against his clan in the mid-1990s, he effectively managed to put the civil war to an end in 1997 by making compromises and meeting some demands of the insurgents.Throughout the 1990s and entire 2000s, Emomali Rahmon strove to firmly consolidate power in his hands, by effectively diminishing the opposition`s influence and moving his main rivals out of the way. To further legitimize his unlimited and infinite rule, the Tajik president initiated several referenda that lifted the limit on presidential terms, abolished the maximum eligibility age for presidential candidates and increased the period of presidential tenure. This process has been accompanied by human rights abuse and a high degree of corruptionin almost all spheres, according to a number of international organizations. The U.S. diplomatic cables leaked in 2010 noted that the members of Rakhmon's family and the inner circle are widely viewed as being the most corrupt people in the country. 

Meanwhile, Tajikistan has been considered growing all the poorer. The Gross Domestic Product per capita in Tajikistan was recorded at 2661 US dollars in 2015, when adjusted by purchasing power parity (PPP). 32% of the population lives below the national poverty line, according to an ADB report. Mass unemployment has driven many people out of the country in search of job and better living abroad. No surprise that the impoverished country has, therefore, long been the most remittance-dependent in the world, with cash transfers accounting for approximately half of the economy. Migrant transfers totaled more than $4 billion in 2013, an equivalent of 52% of the GDP. That figure was 45.5 percent in 2010 and 48 percent in 2012. Those who travel to Tajikistan repeat that the country, especially its provinces, seem frozen in the 1980s and no change in the people’s lifestyle and welfare has occurred. The situation might have even worsened compared to the Soviet period.

Emomali Rahmon might not be quite successful in advancing his nation into the 21st century, but there is something he has done quite well. Having mastered the Soviet-time power style and imitating the leaders of his wealthier neighbors, he has built a personal cult, which may seem bigger than his own tiny country. Since 1994, the Tajik president proudly bears the title “Peshvoi millat” (Leader of the Nation). In December 2015, Tajikistan`s parliament granted him another designation which sounds more solemn: “Founder of Peace and National Unity”. A cult of personality centered around Emomali Rahmon is now being extended to other members of his family. In recent years, Rahmon has strengthened his family`s position as he promoted his children to important posts in the government. In 2016, Rahmon`s daughter Ozoda (39) became chief of the Presidential administration, a key government positionin many post-Soviet countries. In the same year, she was also elected senator to the upper chamber of Majlisi Oli, Tajikistan`s Supreme Assembly. Prior to that, she had worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, having reached the position of deputy minister.

Ozoda`s brother, Rustam Emomali (29) is the eldest son in Tajikistan`s chief family. Rustam is known as one of the youngest generals in the world: in 2013, he was appointed head of the Customs Service and received a military rank of major general. In March 2015, President Emomali Rahmon appointed his son head of the country`s principal anti-corruption bureau, the State Agency for Financial Control and Measures Against Corruption. The new post as the mayor of Dushanbe may seem to be a trampoline for Rustam to a higher position as it had long been speculated that the young man is being prepared to substitute his father on the top. In addition to high-level training at senior government positions, Rustam`s path to the throne is also cleared and facilitated by the authorities. For example, in May 2016, a nationwide referendum gave a consent to a number of changes to the country`s constitution. One of the key amendments reduced the minimum eligibility age for presidential candidates from 35 to 30, effectively enabling Rustam Emomali to succeed his father in office after 2017.In this context, the change in Dushanbe`s mayoral office could be the last move on the chessboard, at which Mahmadsaid Ubaydulloev, No. 2 in Tajikistan with likely higher ambitions, was finally checkmated. By firing Ubaydulloev, Emomali Rahmon not only won the major struggle and kicked him out of the political arena, but obviously pointed to Rustam as his successor.

In a country where nepotism and corruption are widespread phenomena (according to a popular belief, any other person in place of Emomali Rahmon and/or other senior officials would also serve first to their pockets and promote their relatives), the recent developments may not generate any shock across the society and could be seen as a logical step in the succession process. Although other post-Soviet Central Asian neighbors of Tajikistan have rather similar regimes with unlimited power enjoyed by the strongmen, who would reign until their last days (Kyrgyzstan is an exception to this trend) and had their family members enjoy great influence in the country, neither Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov nor Turkmenistan’s Saparmurad Niyazow did not (or could not) manage to transfer power to their children. 

 

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