Turkmenistan is voting in a parliamentary election on Sunday, with a choice of three parties and some independents, but all the candidates are ultimately loyal to President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, leader of the gas-rich nation. One of the candidates is the president’s son, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, regarded by observers as a potential successor to the 60-year-old leader, who is referred to by local people as Arkadag, or Protector. Although the vote takes place against the backdrop of foreign currency shortages brought on by a drop in gas exports, there are no opposition parties in the former Soviet republic of six million. Polling stations greeted voters with national music and dance shows, and snacks.
Turkmenistan’s Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov bagged a fresh seven-year term with nearly 98 percent of a weakly contested vote, electoral officials announced Monday following a preliminary count. The election commission claimed at a press conference in the capital Ashgabat a massive turnout for the Sunday poll in which eight other candidates, viewed as token opponents for Berdymukhamedov, also competed. The former dentist and health minister took power in 2006 after the death of Turkmenistan’s first president, Saparmurat Niyazov. Casting his vote at a school in Ashgabat on Sunday, the president said the vote would decide “the fate of the people for the coming seven years”.
Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, the authoritarian president of gas-rich Turkmenistan, has secured a third term in office by winning 97.69 percent of the vote in the February 12 election, according to the Central Election Commission. The election commission announced the result on February 13, a day after an election whose outcome seemed certain in advance because of Berdymukhammedov’s domination of the Central Asian country and the tightly controlled campaign. The commission put the turnout at more than 97 percent of eligible voters. But RFE/RL correspondents saw only a trickle of voters at several polling stations in the capital, Ashgabat. The election hands Berdymukhammedov, 59, a new seven-year term. He maintains strict control over all aspects of society and was all but guaranteed to defeat the other eight candidates, who were widely seen as window dressing for the vote.
Some nine candidates will be on the ballot for a presidential poll in reclusive Turkmenistan on Sunday, but only one — incumbent autocrat Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov — stands a chance of winning. Among the 59-year-old strongman’s competitors are subordinate regional officials, the director of a government-owned oil refinery and a representative of the Central Asian country’s state agribusiness complex. These other candidates will probably share “the three to six percent of the vote” not amassed by Berdymukhamedov, predicts Annette Bohr, an associate fellow of the Russia and Eurasia programme at the Chatham House think tank. Recent footage from state television saw Berdymukhamedov in relaxed form during a low key pre-election campaign that officially ends on Saturday.
Turkmenistan: Human Rights Watch says upcoming presidential election in Turkmenistan lacks rights protections | Times of Central Asia
Turkmenistan’s appalling human rights record undermines the possibility of a free and fair presidential election on February 12, 2017, Human Rights Watch said on February 7. The election climate in Turkmenistan denies its citizens the ability to choose their president freely or enjoy freedom of expression or access to information. “Turkmenistan has never held a free and fair election and this one is no exception,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “Genuine elections are impossible where authorities maintain tight control over all aspects of public life, violating basic rights relating to freedom of the media, expression, and civil society.” The incumbent president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, 59, who has served for two terms, is running for re-election as one of nine candidates. Constitutional changes in September 2016, widely seen as allowing him to remain president for life, removed restrictions on the president’s age, and extended the presidential term from five to seven years.
Turkmenistan’s President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov says Sunday’s parliamentary election is a democratic milestone for his gas-rich nation, but critics say it merely slaps a veneer on what they call a repressive autocracy. The 56-year-old leader wields virtually unlimited power and is officially nicknamed Arkadag, or The Patron, in his mainly Muslim Central Asian state of 5.5 million which holds the world’s fourth largest reserves of natural gas. Keen to burnish his image abroad as he seeks new gas export routes to bypass former imperial master Russia, he stepped down as leader of the ruling Democratic Party in August and ordered the founding of a second political party, also loyal to him. “The December 15 election will herald a new stage of Turkmenistan’s democracy,” state television showed Berdymukhamedov telling a recent government meeting. He promised democratic reforms when he took office in 2007 after the death of his despotic predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov.
Turkmenistan: Turkmen Central Election Commission announces “day of silence” before presidential elections – Trend
The Central Election Commission (CEC) of Turkmenistan announced Feb.11 “the day of silence” before the presidential elections, the CEC said on Saturday. As many as eight candidates compete for the highest office. These include incumbent President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, deputy head of Dashoguz province Recep Bazarov, head of one of departments of Turkmengaz Kakageldy Abdyllayev, employee of Turkmenoil Gurbanmammad Mollnyazov, minister of water economy Annageldy Yazmyradov, employee of the Ministry of construction Esenkuli Gayipov, director of cotton mill Saparmyrat Batyrov and minister of energy and industry Yarmuhammet Orazgulyev. According to the law “On elections of president of Turkmenistan”, election campaign comes to an end one day before the elections. Thus, it was decided to declare February 11 “day of silence”, the CEC said in a statement.
The background to the January 15 Kazakhstan’s parliamentary elections has been most unfavorable. The image of stability that Kazakhstan’s government had carefully cultivated over the years has been tarnished with the outbreak of violence in an oil town of Zhanaozen. In neighboring Russia, on which Kazakhstan depends both culturally and politically, dozens of thousands of people protested in December against falsifications in the Russian Duma elections held on December 4. These combined events generated warning signs that the Kazakh authorities should brace themselves for a stormy political season. However, the elections went as planned with a high turn-out (lower than in the 2011 Presidential elections but still solid 75 %) and very few instances of protest or boycott; the expected rendering of the elections as undemocratic by the OSCE and the usual accusations by the losing parties managed to gather only about a couple of hundred protesters in the center of Almaty on January 17. The charges leveled by the OSCE were that the elections “though well administered, did not meet key democratic principles.” As the OSCE statement said, “the authorities did not provide the necessary conditions for the conduct of genuinely pluralistic elections.” The accusations of not facilitating a “genuine pluralism” and not allowing all aspiring candidates and parties to enter free competition for the parliament seats comes as no surprise. After all, in a widely-held view, the authoritarian regime in Kazakhstan has been faking democratic processes for quite a while. So, now, on top of the previous simulations, it began to fake a multi-party parliament with 83 seats in the lower chamber given to the ruling Nur Otan party, 8 seats to the “Ak Zhol” (translated as “bright path”), 7 seats to the KNPK (communist) party, and 9 seats reserved for the representatives of ethnic minorities through the Assembly of the People.
The obvious question is: why go to the trouble of faking a multi-party system if the parliament is overshadowed by the President anyway, and the most important policy decisions are made in the government and in the corridors of the Presidential Apparatus which are then just rubber-stamped in parliament? As several Kazakhstani analysts, such as Daniyar Ashimbayev and Dosym Satpayev, have noted, after many years of consolidating power in the institute of presidency, the President himself and the ruling elite now want to transform the system from the presidential to the parliamentary-presidential. Having the almost omnipotent first President in the figure of Nazarbayev is seen as an exceptional situation of the first decades of independence and it is presumed and hoped that the next President, whoever he/she is, should have far less power than President Nazarbayev had. In line with this vision for the future, the parliament has already started flexing its powers through the vote of confidence for the newly appointed “old” government of Karim Masimov. All presidential appointees have to be approved by parliament and it is possible theoretically and legally (although it is difficult to imagine now) that the parliament might not always agree with the President.
The Turkmen presidential campaign has produced no surprises yet. The cookie-cutter candidates running in opposition to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov all come from state controlled organizations or industries and are not straying from the incumbent’s program. Perhaps their purpose is to get a tiny bit out in front of the Turkmen leader so as to test which ideas are more feasible. For example, Rejep Bazarov, deputy head of the government in Dashoguz velayat (province) proposed that Turkmenistan curtail the practice of hand-picking cotton, and mechanize the harvest. He also wanted to increase manufacturing of products for export in the provinces.
Next month, Turkmenistan, Central Asia’s most closed society, will hold an election for president. There’s no secret who will win—current tyrant Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov—but the field of candidates has grown unexpectedly large. Is an exciting election in the works?
Probably not. Of the candidates currently running against Berdimuhamedov, none look likely to garner even statistically relevant support or votes. Berdimuhamedov, a dentist by trade, was swept to power after Turkmenistan’s previous president, Sapurmurat Niyazov, died. That death sparked some truly bizarre commentary in the west, including speculation that the country would collapse violently as elites battled for control of limited resources. There was no clear succession plan, even if the head of the Parliament was meant to be the interim president.
With less than two months before the February 12 presidential elections in Turkmenistan, 14 rival candidates have now appeared on the scene in the last week, following the announcement of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s nomination December 15.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the opposition website gundogar.org have reported on these predictable figures selected from reliable ministry bureaucrats, provincial government administrators and factory managers to compete against the incumbent… All of them were nominated by state-controlled industrial or civic groups. The State News Agency of Turkmenistan has maintained enthusiastic coverage of this simulated of democracy with declarations like this:
This meeting like all activities in this most important social-political campaign for the elections of president of Turkmenistan took place under conditions of glasnost’ and openness, which once again vividly reflected the opportunity, established by law, for citizens of our country to freely and fully realize their constitutional rights.