Turkmenistan’s first multi-party elections held without opposition

Tue 17 Dec 2013

Turkmenistan’s first multi-party elections held without opposition

On December 15th the Central Asian state of Turkmenistan, described by rights groups as one of the world's most repressive, held its first multi-party parliamentary elections in which the ruling Democratic Party of President Berdimuhamedov won all the 125 seats.

No real opposition
Until January 2012, when a law permitted the creation of an opposition party, 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 an opposition party. On December 15th 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.

‘Atmosphere of total repression’

London-based Amnesty International said in a statement before the vote 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. The OSCE sent a 15-member team to the country by invitation of the government. It will publish its recommendations for the government in February.

Large gas reserves

The 56-year-old Turkmen President 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. Berdimuhamedov's critics see the establishment of the PIE and these first multi-party parliamentary elections as a tool of the ruling DPT to satisfy the international community and to prevent criticism over Turkmenistan being a single-party state.  President Berdimuhamedov is keen to improve his image as he seeks new gas export routes to ease dependence on former imperial master Russia.

Sources: RFE/RL, Amnesty International, Reuters, Reuters [2]