Turkmenistan has been ruled as a dictatorship since 1991 when the country gained independence from the Soviet Union. Saparmurat Niyazov became Turkmenistan’s first president, ruling the country from 1991 until his death in 2006. He was succeeded by the relatively unknown Berdymukhammedov, deputy prime-minister and Minister of Health under Niyazov. He, like his predecessor Niyazov, has created a personality cult around himself, calling himself “Arkadag” (“Protector’’). Berdymukhammedov controls almost all aspects of public life in Turkmenistan, does not allow free media and supresses civil society. Furthermore, elections in the country have not been regarded as free or fair since 1991. The Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (DPT) currently holds all 125 seats in parliament, which it gained in the 2012 parliamentary elections. Other parties and organizations were allowed to run in these parliamentary elections, but all pledged allegiance to the president. In February 2017 Berdymukhammedov, was elected president for the third time, winning more than 97 percent of the vote according to official results and beating eight other candidates.
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- 5,373,502 million (World Bank 2015 est.)
- Governmental Type:
- Republic; authoritarian presidential rule, with little power outside the executive branch
- Ruling Coalition:
- One ruling party - Democratic Party of Turkmenistan
- Last Elections:
- 12 February 2017 (presidential elections)
- Next Elections:
- 2018 (parliamentary elections)
The Central Asian country of Turkmenistan is known as one of the most repressive countries in the world, containing strong elements of personal leadership, despotism, and constitutional subversion. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, before-Soviet-leader of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov remained in office as the president of the newly independent Turkmenistan. In 1999, he was proclaimed president for life. Now that the Soviet socialist ideology had been discredited with the disintegration of the USSR, Niyazov looked for a new way to legitimize his undemocratic hold on power. To this end, he created a nationalist ideology in which he figured himself as the person needed to lead the country to prosperity after independence. He called himself Serdar Turkmenbashi, Leader of all Turkmen. However, on 21 December 2006 Niyazov suddenly died of a heart attack. After his death Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov assumed the presidency and 'won' the two (unfree and unfair) elections afterwards. Disregard for civil liberties, including freedoms of speech, press, assembly, religion and movement under the authoritarian President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, dominates Turkmenistan's human-rights record. The country is affected by corruption, drug trafficking and clan politics.
Turkmenistan is governed by a single party under the lead of an authoritarian president who is head of state, head of government and commander in chief of the armed forces. According to the constitution, the president is elected for a five-year term. There is no vice-president or prime minister. The parliament – the Mejlis – is controlled by the president.
The legal system is based on civil law with a constitution as the fulcrum of legal authority. At the judicial level, there is a supreme court consisting of judges appointed by the president. The 2008 constitution introduced the legal possibility to form multiple political parties. Before this, only the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (DPT), which is a continuation of the former Communist Party of the SSR of Turkmenistan, was legal. Currently, there is one other party, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (PIE). The new constitution also drew an official line between the representative and executive bodies. Article 82 of the constitution was amended to describe that the provincial, city, district and town governors would be appointed directly by the president of Turkmenistan acting merely as representatives. As commonly practised before, local leaders can now also legally be removed if they act against the liking of the president.
The presidential election system requires that a candidate can only win by obtaining more than 50 percent of the votes, either in a first or second round. If only two candidates contested the first round and none fulfilled the above mentioned legal requirement, a repeat election is to be conducted within two months. However, the failed candidates cannot contest the repeat election. The presidential election is administered by a four level election administration comprising the Central Election Commission (CEC), six Regional Election Commissions (RECs) including the election commission for the city of Ashgabat, 65 District Election Commissions (DECs) and some 1,600 Polling Station Election Commissions (PECs). The CEC members which took office in July 2010 have been approved by Berdimuhamedov. The RECs are appointed by the CEC, the DECs by the respective REC upon nomination of the people’s councils of the towns and communes, and the PECs by the respective DECs upon nominations of the corresponding people’s councils.
Women in the Turkmen society
There are no legal restrictions on the participation of women or minorities in the political process. Nevertheless, they are underrepresented in government and politics. Currently there are 8 women and 42 men in the Mejlis. Furthermore, there are 2 female ministers in the government, contrary to 19 male ministers. No women serve as provincial governors. The political establishment in Turkmenistan is a lot further when it comes to emancipation of women than most citizens are. However, at the same time the position of women declined due to government policies. This has to do with the nationalist ideology that was promoted after 1991, which also sought to ‘re-traditionalize’ Turkmen society.
According to article 18 of the Turkmen constitution men and women have equal rights and Turkmenistan adopted and ratified several international human rights instruments like the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (EAFDAW). However, in May 2007 the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women raised concerns at Turkmenistan's lack of awareness of the urgent need to stem violence against women, to pass specific legislation, including on domestic violence and to introduce measures to address trafficking in women. The comittee among others urged Turkmenistan to criminalize domestic violence, bring to justice the perpetrators, ensure that the victims have access to appropriate redress and ensure that shelters are set up. The Committee also recommended that the government needs to provide an enabling environment for women's and human rights organizations.
Minorities in the Turkmen society
Minorities are represented in the government, although preference is given to ethnic Turkmen. The Mejlis predominantly consists of ethnic Turkmen, with no more than a few ethnic Russians and Uzbeks. Turkmen comprise approximately 77 percent of the population of about 5.5 million; Uzbeks 9 percent, Russians 7 percent, and Kazakhs 7 percent. There are smaller numbers of Armenians, Azeri’s and many other ethnic groups.
Since its independence, the country has not experienced ethnic turmoil. As part of its nation-building efforts, the government has attempted to foster Turkmen national pride, in part through its language policy. The constitution designates Turkmen as the official language, and it is a mandatory subject in school. Russian remains of common usage in government and commerce. However, the president has criticized the widespread use of Russian. On the one hand, language has become a mechanism for exclusion in recent years. Non-ethnic Turkmen employees at government ministries reportedly were given until December 1999 to learn Turkmen. Non-Turkmen feared that the designation of Turkmen as the official language would place their children at a disadvantage educationally and economically. They complained that some avenues for promotion and job advancement were no longer open to them. Only a handful of non Turkmen occupy high-echelon jobs in the ministries, and there have been reports that managerial positions are closed to non-Turkmen. Those who were able, mostly Russians, left Turkmenistan in large numbers because of these measures. At the same time the focus on the Turkmen language withholds people form retrieving information in other languages.
Political parties law of 2012
On 15 January 2012, a new law on political parties was signed by Berdimuhamedov. The law defines the legal basis for the establishment of political parties, their rights and obligations, guarantees of their activities, and regulates the relations of political parties with government agencies and other organizations. It is designed to regulate the right of citizens to form political parties and the procedure of establishment, operation, reorganization and liquidation of political parties in the country. However, all these developments proved meaningless, as all candidates in the presidential elections were supporters of Berdimuhamedov. Even those opposition parties listed below at the election section - except perhaps for the first two - are actually stained because their leaders formerly fulfilled high post under the regime.
On 15 December 2013, Turkmenistan held its first multi-party parliamentary elections. Until January 2012, when a law permitted the creation of opposition parties, the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (DPT) was the only registered party of Turkmenistan. In August 2012 the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (PIE) was established, but the party pledged allegiance to President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and is viewed as a government’s ally rather than a opposition party. On 15 December, 238 contestants ran in the parliamentary elections. Candidates of the DPT and PIE, along with members of state-sponsored trade unions, a women's union and a youth organization, sought seats in the 125-member legislature, which formally approves any decision made by Berdimuhamedov. The day after, the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Turkmenistan said the turnout was 91.3 percent with the DPT winning all the 125 seats.
London-based Amnesty International said in a statement, based on reports of Radio Free Europe correspondents in Turkmenistan, that the elections were marked by an “atmosphere of total repression”, while torture is widely used in Turkmen prisons to elicit confessions and secure confessions. “There is still no genuine opposition party, no independent media and not a single independent human rights organization operating freely inside the country”, the statement said. News agency Reuters stated that there was no real competition during the elections as both the ruling DPT and the new PIE were supporting Berdimuhamedov, while opponents remained in exile. To the contrary, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) held an observer mission and said the elections were "free" and adhered to "democratic principles".
The elections were the first in the country attended by a delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The OSCE sent a 15-member team to the country by invitation of the government. It published its recommendations for the government in February 2014.
On 12 February 2017 presidential elections were held in Turkmenistan, allowing candidates from non-government parties to run for the first time. Due to constitutional amendments implemented last year, candidates older than 70 year were permitted to take part in the presidential elections. The amendment is widely seen as a reform adopted to ensure that Berdimuhamedov rules for life. Furthermore, the reforms extended the presidential term from five to seven years.
Besides the incumbent president there were eight other candidates on the ballot, made up of government officials, lawmakers, and heads of companies. The eight candidates received little attention from the media, which is controlled by the state. The current president, however, was covered a lot, appearing in several towns and cities.
On 13 February 2017 the Election Commission announced that Turkmenistan’s incumbent President Berdimuhamedov had been re-elected. Berdimuhamedov supposedly won 97.69 percent of all votes, even more than the 97.14 percent he gained in the 2012 elections.
|Candidate||% of the votes|
|Gurnbanguly Berdimuhamedov||97,14 %|
|Maksat Annanepesov||1,02 %|
|Bekmurad Ataliyev||0,36 %|
|Serdar Jelilov||0,25 %|
|Jumanazar Annayev||0,21 %|
|Meretdurdy Gurbanov||0,17 %|
|Ramazan Durdiyev||0,15 %|
|Suleimannepes Nurnepesov||0,09 %|
The turnout-rate of eligible voters was 97.27 percent according to official statements. It is very much doubted that these results are truthful though; Turkmenistan’s elections have not been regarded as free or fair since 1991, when the country became independent. Furthermore, RFE/RL Turkmen Service reported that days before the official election day, a group of students was asked to fill in ballots in favour of Berdimuhamedov.
Elections and political situation
- Amnesty International Chronicles of Turkmenistan
- Inter-parliamentary Union
- Ria Novosti on law on political parties
- Ria Novosti on abolishment People's Council
- Radio Free Europe on law on presidential candidacy
- Radio Free Europe on elections in Turkmenistan
- The Guardian on elections in Turkmenistan
- The Diplomat on elections in Turkmenistan
- The Economist on elections in Turkmenistan
- Turkish Weekly on elections in Turkmenistan
- Turkmenistan governmental
- Turkmenistan state news agency (TDH)
- U.S. Department of State
- Carnegia Endowment
- Country Studies
- Human Rights Watch
- Jamestown Foundation
- Radio Free Europe
- Turkmenistan governmental website