Tajikistan is making the headlines these days for coronavirus-related news. Or lack of to be more accurate. The country is one of the few in the world that claims it has no cases and its football league has attracted international attention since it is one of a handful of competitions across the globe that is still going on. However, plans for power transition in Tajikistan are still going ahead.
On March 27, Rustam Emomali, son of Tajikistan’s president, was elected to the Supreme Assembly (Majlisi Oli), the country’s senate. Less than a month later, he became chairman of the upper house. This move didn’t come as a surprise as it was already considered to be a real possibility, and a way to officialise his father’s apparent wish to be succeeded by him.
As per Tajikistan’s constitution, the chairman of the senate is the second most powerful post in the country since it would take over the presidency in case the incumbent president became incapacitated or his stint in office would be terminated early. This makes Rustam Emomali, officially, the heir apparent to Emomali Rahmon.
Presidential elections on the horizon
Rustam Emomali’s election to the Supreme Assembly and its chairmanship is not truly remarkable since it was an expected move. Moving fast through the ranks of the Tajik administration, Rustam had been groomed for a while by his father to become, potentially, his successor. Or at least to be well situated in the country’s power structures. Nevertheless, an event later this year will be a test on the possibility of hereditary succession to take place in Tajikistan.
The Central Asian nation is expected to hold presidential elections in autumn, COVID-19 permitting. This will be the definite moment to see if power transition in Tajikistan will definitely take shape, with Rahmon senior stepping down and having his son replace him as candidate. Since the elections won’t be fair nor free, the result will be the one desired by the incumbent president.
Will Rahmon pass the baton to Rustam later this year through the elections or will he wait? That is the main question. At 67 years of age, having seen his brother pass away recently and the demise of neighbouring Uzbekistan’s first president, Islam Karimov, Rahmon might have decided to call it a day. At least on the surface, since authoritarian leaders like him never really retired (one needs only to see what’s happening in Kazakhstan with Nazarbayev). Otherwise, he might want to stay at the top, perhaps not wishing yet to relinquish power or, for some reason, not wanting his son take over.
So we will have to wait until later this year to see if Rustam Emomali finalises his quest and becomes president. Until then, there are a number of Tajikistan-related events one can entertain himself with. For instance, watching the Tajik football league (will regime-backed FC Istiklol win its seventh league on a row?) or putting bets on when Tajikistan will finally admit it has also been hit by the coronavirus pandemic (and that there is no such thing as weather-induced pneumonia).