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Turkmenistan: Leader Raises Possibility Of Retirement

  • Bruce Pannier

http://gdb.rferl.org/9E830F7B-CB2C-43ED-85DE-DD34FB023C9F_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/9E830F7B-CB2C-43ED-85DE-DD34FB023C9F_mw800_mh600.jpg Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov raised the issue of his retirement earlier this week at a session of the Halk Maslahaty, or People's Council. Though Niyazov's ideas are usually greeted with unanimous enthusiasm, this particular request was rejected outright. The announcement was timed to coincide with the country's independence day, 27 October, and had a less-than-genuine feel to it. This was not the first time Turkmenistan's "president for life" has offered to step down -- nor the first time the Turkmen people have begged him to stay.

Prague, 27 October 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov addressed the Halk Maslahaty, or People's Council, on 25 October, ahead of the country's 27 October Independence Day celebration.

In his address, he asked the council to consider holding presidential elections in 2008 or 2009, as he approaches his 70th birthday.

"Dear people, let me make a plea if you don't object. I am grateful to you for your proposals, but I say that one person, a single person alone, cannot manage everything. Other people are maturing. If you are not against it, in 2008 or 2009 let's hold presidential elections. No, esteemed people, there are other people growing up. After I will become 70, let me go, because nothing is forever," Niyazov said.

The usually compliant People's Council, the very body that amended the constitution in 1999 to make Niyazov "president for life," rejected the proposal immediately.
"Our dear leader, our father, you are our president for life, so stay! There should not even be discussion about [holding presidential elections.]"


Murad Sopiev, the head of Turkmenistan's farmers' association, was one of the council members who spoke up against Niyazov's proposal. "Dear people, there cannot even be talk about presidential elections," he said. "Our dear leader, our father, you are our president for life, so stay! There should not even be discussion about [holding presidential elections.]"

The chairman of the state oil company, Saparmammet Veliev, also voiced disagreement. "We must say 'no' to what our leader says. We do not agree with this request [to leave office]. You were sent to us by the Almighty and we want you to remain [as president] until the end of your life," Veliev said.

The event, however, had a familiar ring to it. This was not the first time Niyazov has mentioned leaving office one day, nor was it the first time the Turkmen people, in this instance the People's Council, energetically insisted that he remain president until death.

Niyazov made a similar proposal to the People's Council in February 2001, telling the body that by 2010 he would step down. Niyazov said no leader of any country should be older than 70 years of age, which Niyazov will be in 2010. The council rejected the offer.

But as much as this latest session of the People's Council might have seem scripted, it probably also reflects the fact that many in the country can scarcely conceive of life without the man who has ruled there since independence.

(RFE/RL's Turkmen Service and Naz Nazar contributed to this report.)
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