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'It Is All The Same Games,' Turkmen Activist Says About Elections

Sazak Durdymuradov

Sazak Durdymuradov

Sazak Durdymuradov, a journalist, teacher, and activist from Bakharden district in Turkmenistan's Akhal Province, had his candidacy to run in the country's parliamentary elections on December 14 rejected by Turkmen officials, for unknown reasons.

In an interview with Nazar Hudayberdi of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, Durdymuradov says he is concerned for the safety of himself and his family. He says the Turkmen people are upset that the elections will be neither free nor fair, but cannot express themselves openly. There is only one legal political party in Turkmenistan, the most authoritarian country in Central Asia.

Durdymuradov worked as a reporter for RFE/RL until he was seized at home by Turkmen secret police on June 20 and taken to a psychiatric clinic. He was forced to sign a letter agreeing not to work as a journalist before being released in early July.

The candidacy of another Turkmen dissident, Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev, was also disallowed earlier this month. Durdykuliev was himself forcibly incarcerated in a psychiatric clinic in 2004 after sending a letter to then-President Saparmurat Niyazov requesting permission to hold a political demonstration.

RFE/RL: You declared your candidacy for Sunday's parliamentary elections? What is the result? Has your candidacy been accepted?

Sazak Durdymuradov:
I think I was one of the first people from local initiative groups to announce their candidacy for the elections. But I failed to have my candidacy approve due to unknown reasons. According to the election law, the number of people who [must join an initiative group to support a] candidate must be at least 10. There were 23 people who supported my candidacy.

Actually, it is really hard for me to talk about it at all. To be frank, I am concerned about my own life and the life of my family members, as I was warned. I do not know the reason. What makes me upset is that I acted according to the law. My priority was the interests of the people. I could gather far more than the 200 [supporters needed to nominate a candidate], but there is no place to hold a campaign [rally].

The authorities refused to provide reasons for my rejection. I do not blame local authorities. I blame National Security officers and Central Election Committee officials because my documents were accepted at first but handed back a day later, saying they were unacceptable.

RFE/RL: Was it the Bakharden district electoral committee who rejected your documents?

Durdymuradov: Yes, they told me they would not accept them. There are a number of people who came from different places -- like Buzmeyin and Gyzylarbat (Serdar) -- to support me. I would be able to give detailed information about those people.

What I mean is that even U.S. President-elect Barack Obama would not be able to win a seat in parliament here. Even Russia's [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin would fail. [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel and [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy would also fail to do so.

If you are not at the side of some specific groups here, you are not allowed to defend people's interests and benefits. We are in such a difficult situation. I wonder whether the president knows about these [violations] or not. I cannot understand why the president pledged to hold the elections. ... It is all the same games.

And one more thing. All the requirements to vote have been prepared in our school, but we do not know for whom we will vote on December 14. Ten days are left before the elections, and we still do not know who the candidates are. There are no pictures, no meetings, nothing. ... State media fails to give information about it. It is like a game. It is obvious that people will not participate in the elections. Even if they come, I am sure that they will not support the elections [in their hearts].

RFE/RL: So you mean people are not satisfied with the elections at all?

Durdymuradov: Think about this: How can people be satisfied without knowing whom they are voting for? It is obvious that people will boycott the elections. In other countries, people are aware of their elections. People watch election campaigns in other countries through their media. But it is all the same stuff here. People are very upset about these elections, though they do not speak freely about it.