On August 21, Turkmenistan's Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs launched a new political party
-- the first formal challenger to the political juggernaut that is President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov's Democratic Party. A week later, almost nothing is known about the man selected to lead the party. (We can't even find a photograph of him.)
There was certain to be some question as to the actual independence of the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, if for no other reason than that it was inaugurated by a panel seated under a wall-sized picture of the president. Despite this glaring (perfectly framed) show of loyalty, however, the meeting in the capital, Ashgabat, carried the air of a normal political get-together. The party congress adopted a political platform and elected the new party's senior leadership, nominating "specialist" Orazmammed Mammadov as the first-ever chairman.
Mammadov may be honored by his historic selection as the leader of the country's first opposition party, but no one can say for sure. Aside from a brief speech at the party congress, he has yet to make any public appearance or statement about the new party or his leadership of it.
Actually, there is quite a lot no one knows about Mr. Mammadov. A correspondent for RFE/RL's Turkmen Service in Ashgabat paid a visit to the Union of Industrialists and Entreprenuers' headquarters to see what he could learn about the new kid on the political block.
The party's headquarters is also home to the political party and to the organization's weekly newspaper "Rysgal" -- a one-stop shop for everything industrial and entrepreneurial. The result, however, was a bit lacking. When our correspondent asked for simple biographical information on Mammadov, he was told by staff that he needed to inquire to the party headquarters, which was in a room a few meters down the hall. Unfortunately, the door was locked because the party members -- all of them -- were "conducting field meetings."
If he waited until August 27 -- our correpondent was told -- he would get everything he needed from the newest issue of the "Rysgal" weekly, as the paper was to publish a profile of Mammadov. The paper has been published, but with only a cursory overview of the new party -- nothing on its new leader.
What we do know is this: Orazmammed Mammadov is "in his early to mid-30s," studied teaching at Turkmenistan State University, taught some subject in a school somewhere, and is a "specialist" for the industrial group.
In Turkmen opposition politics, less is apparently more.
-- Zach Peterson & RFE/RL's Turkmen Service