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Will Rustam Emomali Become The Next President Of Tajikistan?

Rustam Emomali: Sooner rather than later?
Rustam Emomali: Sooner rather than later?

At age 29, he was appointed as mayor of Dushanbe. In 2018, the Tajik Constitution was amended to allow a person as young as 30 to run for president.

Now, following claims by a prominent opposition activist that he was recently abducted, tortured, and pressured to support Rustam Emomali in the 2020 presidential election, the 31-year-old son of the country's long-standing authoritarian leader is squarely back in the spotlight.

Rustam Emomali, the eldest son of 66-year-old President Emomali Rahmon, has never publicly said he would run for the presidency, but it is widely believed that he is being groomed as the heir apparent.

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon (right) with Rustam Emomali
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon (right) with Rustam Emomali

The prospect reemerged this week after Sharofiddin Gadoev, a member of the banned Group 24 opposition movement, made allegations that state officials had pressured him to support Emomali.

“Their plan for me included...leading the 17 members of Group 24 who have returned to Tajikistan and gradually supporting the policies of President Rahmon and Rustam Emomali," he told RFE/RL's Tajik Service in a March 7 interview. "They mentioned that 'Rustam Emomali will take part in the 2020 election will support him.'"

Prior to replacing Muhammadsaid Ubaidulloev, a Rahmon ally, as Dushanbe mayor two years ago, Emomali headed a state financial oversight and anticorruption agency. Prior to that, he served as the chief of the state customs service, a position he received at the age of 25, along with a military rank of major general.

His age stood in the way of him ascending politically at the national level. But in 2018, Tajikistan's parliament approved amendments to the elections law, reducing the eligibility age from 35 to 30 both for the presidency and for legislative posts in parliament's upper chamber.

Opposition Activist: 'I Was Kidnapped By The Tajik Government'
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The amendments, endorsed in a 2016 referendum, also gave Rahmon the right to run for an unlimited number of terms. Rahmon signed the measures into law in February 2018.

The right to unlimited terms applies only to Rahmon, who was granted the title of Leader of the Nation.

No Opposition

With no real opposition, and no genuine political rival to challenge the incumbent Rahmon, the main question being asked by analysts is whether it will be father or son in the presidential office after 2020.

Tajikistan is expected to hold both presidential and parliamentary elections that year, although no exact dates have been set yet.

"There are two options in the election that both depend on the same person: Will Rahmon decide to run himself or bring forward his son, Rustam's candidacy?" says Parviz Mullojonov, a Dushanbe-based independent expert on political affairs. "This is what the experts believe."

Tajikistan doesn’t have a record of free-and-fair elections. Rahmon’s government has been repeatedly criticized for suppressing dissent and restricting political freedoms.

The opposition Islamic Renaissance Party, which is viewed as a moderate religious movement, was branded as a terrorist group and banned in 2015. Dozens of party officials and lawyers were sent to prison.

The Group 24 movement was branded “extremist” and outlawed in 2014 after it called for antigovernment protests.

Gadoev's comments suggest that efforts are under way in Dushanbe to transfer power to Emomali sooner rather than later.

The activist said that during interrogations in Dushanbe, one high-ranking general told him that "Rustam Emomali is the future president of Tajikistan."