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Tajik Voters Support Extending Presidential Re-election Eligibility - 2003-06-23

Nearly final results from a weekend referendum in Tajikistan show an overwhelming majority of voters approved a set of constitutional amendments, one of which would enable the president to run for two more terms in office, ending in the year 2020.

Tajikistan's central election commission says that with nearly all the ballots counted from Sunday's referendum, 93 percent of the voters chose to support the constitutional changes.

Most of the proposed changes were minor and technical in nature. But one asked voters whether they support allowing President Emomali Rakhmonov to seek two more seven-year terms, when his current term expires in 2006.

Similar votes have allowed leaders of other former Soviet Central Asian states to extend their terms as president. Among them, Mr. Rakhmonov is the youngest leader, at age 50.

Western groups, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, declined to send observers to monitor the vote, saying they did not want to endorse the process.

Casting his ballot Sunday, the Tajik President said he had not yet decided whether he will seek re-election. But the Constitutional change worries Tajikistan's political opposition, which suspects he never intends to step down.

President Rakhmonov came to power in 1992 in a civil war against Islamic rebels that continued for another five years. He won that war with the help of the Russian army.

Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plans to upgrade Russia's military presence in Tajikistan, which is located along a main route for illegal drugs heading from neighboring Afghanistan to Russia and Europe.