Crossroads Asia

Protests and Referendums in Central Asia

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Crossroads Asia

Protests and Referendums in Central Asia

Protests in Kazakhstan, a referendum in Tajikistan, and more. Central Asia weekend reading.

Protests and Referendums in Central Asia
Credit: Public Domain

Central Asia weekend reads:

Eyes on Kazakhstan: All this week, the government of Kazakhstan has intensified efforts to disrupt and dissuade civil society activists from engaging in nationwide protests on May 21. The government has taken a firm position that the planned demonstrations are illegal. Aigerim Toleukhanova, writing for Eurasianet, says “Authorities in Astana, Almaty, Shymkent, Atyrau, and other cities have formally denied approval to hold rallies on May 21. There have been several reported instances of people applying for permission to hold the meetings subsequently being detained.”

According to Reuters, “Prosecutor General Zhakip Asanov said on Friday that people calling for fresh rallies were provoking illegal actions and spreading ‘false information which showed signs of inciting social and ethnic discord.’”

There is the potential for miscalculation (and violence) on Saturday. As RFE/RL reports, government officials in Almaty say they raided a pair of apartments and discovered “several firearms, ammunition, four grenades, and 5 million tenges ($15,000) in cash.” Of course, the protests may fail to coalesce but even small protests could morph into bigger conflagrations if mismanaged.

This weekend, Kazakhstan is the country to watch carefully.

Referendum in Tajikistan: It’s assumed the constitutional changes that will be up for a vote this weekend in Tajikistan will be approved en masse and codify Tajik President Emomali Rahmon’s enthronement as a president-for-life. Abdujalil Abdurasulov wrote a solid overview for the BBC on how Rahmon consolidated power and bne Intellinews’ Naubet Bisenov penned a good analysis of how the constitutional changes included in the referendum smooth the way for a Rahmon dynasty.

The referendum includes more than 40 amendments to the constitution (last amended in 2003), the most-discussed of which would get rid of the two-term limit for Rahmon (a la Kazakhstan’s 2011 abolishing of term limits for the country’s first president) and lower the legal age to run for president from 35 to 30. The latter would be less controversial if not for the fact that Rahmon’s son, Rustam, is 28. Should Rahmon feel like retiring in 2020 (the next Tajik presidential election), he can support his son’s candidacy–and a law passed in 2015 giving him the title “Leader of the Nation” ensured his ability to impact government decisions even after retiring as well as providing him life-long immunity.

RFE/RL’s Farangis Najibullah tweeted out a number of other key amendments: banning Tajiks with dual-citizenship or without a university degree from public office, barring political parties from receiving money from foreigners, and banning religious and nationalist political parties.

As Bruce Pannier, also of RFE/RL, noted the referendum is a straight “yes” or “no” to the entire package. The issue was the topic of a recent podcast which is worth listening too.

Myth of the Periphery: Paolo Sorbello and Bradley Jardine, in a piece for Open Democracy, tackle the distracting myth that Central Asia–particularly looking at economics–is peripheral. “Far from operating in isolation,” they write “Central Asia’s elites have been quietly accumulating power with the help of western tax havens.” Looking at the Panama Papers and Central Asian elites implicated in various corruption scandals in recent years Sorbello and Jardine commented that “autocratisation doesn’t occur in isolation.”