Why are There so Many Lifelong Presidents in Central Asia?

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many countries in Central Asia hoped for a better, democratic future, full of growth and unlimited potential. What most of them got were dictators who have been ruling for years, without an end in sight. Why is this the case and why do people let them stay in those powerful positions?

Changing the constitution

One theme that seems to be often repeated with these leaders is that they love to change the constitution to fit their needs. The president of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon is due to some of the changes he has made, able to run for an unlimited number of terms. Moreover, his son will be able to run exactly when Emomali’s term ends in 2020. This means that after ruling the country for 26 years, Emomali plans on having his son be his successor. Treating the presidency as a family business is definitely one way of staying forever in power.  

Controlling the votes 

Another reason why presidents in Central Asia tend to stay presidents for life is that they completely control elections and votes. Presidential elections in these countries are nothing more than a show for the masses and there is never any doubt that the incumbent presidents will win every time. In the past couple of elections, the presidents Nursultan Nazarbayev and Islam Karimov didn’t bother to try and make the elections look believable. When a president doesn’t even have a campaign but still manages to win with more than 90% of the vote, something doesn’t seem right. Not to mention that there is never any popular or even known opposition that could shake things up. 


As it was already mentioned in the case of Emomali Rahmon and his son, these rulers tend to pick successors from their own families. They don’t trust anyone around them to continue with the same policies except their own flesh and blood. And even if they didn’t want family members to pick up where they left off, they don’t have any other choice. They already got rid of any opposition they might have, and now there is nobody qualified for the job left. 


But why do the people of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan let these dictators stay in power?

There have already been two successful revolutions in Kyrgyzstan in which a dictator has been overthrown, so why can’t the other countries follow. Well, the answer to that is twofold. First of all, as we have mentioned, any form of criticism and opposition to the existing government is immediately silenced and ‘the rebels’ are often taken to jail and accused of treason. That is why people are scared that the revolution might be just a one-way ticket to jail. The other reason is that some of the people believe, or they were made to believe, that stability won’t be possible once the current regime has been destroyed. The fear of the unknown often prevents us from making any kind of change and some of these people are choosing dictators over instability.