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.
The election will be the first with candidates from parties other than the ruling party, the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, following a 2012 law that permitted new parties to form. Durdygylych Orazov, Mary region party chairman, is running from the Agrarian Party, and Bekmyrat Atalyev, a member of parliament, is running from the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs.
However, the government’s near total control over public life, including the media, public meetings, and access to information, means that there is nowhere close to a level playing field between candidates, Human Rights Watch said. Voters cannot express their views about all candidates in an open manner and without fear.
Berdymukhamedov won overwhelming victories in tightly controlled, pro forma elections in 2007 and 2012.