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Deputy Prime Minister Serdar Berdymukhammedov takes part in celebrations for the national Turkmen Horse Day and the Turkmen Shepherd Dog Day near Ashgabat on April 25.

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov sent his only son, Serdar, to Glasgow to represent Turkmenistan at the COP26 world climate conference.

Serdar is seemingly being groomed to take over from his father one day, so he has been making a lot of trips recently representing Turkmenistan. He was even an honorary coach of Turkmenistan's Olympic team in Tokyo this summer.

One might not think that Turkmenistan, a desert country with a population of some 5 million, would have a big impact on the climate.

But it actually does, because it's one of the largest emitters of methane gas in the world.

And according to the pro-Turkmen government website, Serdar got right down to it, dedicating his speech at the conference to his country's methane emissions.

Serdar said on November 3 that his country paid special attention to reducing its methane emissions and welcomes the Global Methane Pledge, which he said Turkmenistan was interested in "studying."

Outsized Impact

For most of the delegates at the conference that statement probably did not mean much, but according to an October 19 report by Bloomberg: "In 2020, the International Energy Agency estimates that [Turkmenistan’s] overall methane emissions from oil and gas were behind only Russia and the U.S., both of which have significantly larger energy industries and populations."

Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov visits the Ahalteke Equestrian Complex with Serdar in June.
Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov visits the Ahalteke Equestrian Complex with Serdar in June.

The report referred to data from the French firm Kayrros that indicated just how bad Turkmenistan's methane-gas problem is.

Kayrros uses satellites to monitor leaks from fossil-fuel facilities around the world. According to the Bloomberg report, Kayrros found that "of the 50 most severe methane releases at onshore oil and gas operations analyzed since 2019 by [Kayrros], Turkmenistan accounted for 31 of them."

Back in Glasgow, the Turkmen heir apparent said Turkmenistan "in the medium term plans to achieve zero growth of greenhouse emissions, starting in 2030," and he added, "in the long term -- annual significant reductions in emissions."

"Zero growth" on existing outputs that are already the third-worst in the world?

And there were no details about how much of a significant reduction will be made from current emission levels.

The Bloomberg report noted that just one leak at the Korpeje natural-gas field in Turkmenistan "had a climate impact roughly equivalent to the annual emissions of all the cars in Arizona."

Deny Everything

Serdar officially went to Glasgow as the deputy chairman of Turkmenistan's ministerial cabinet, which means he was speaking on behalf of the government when he made the pledges about methane reductions.

That is the same Turkmen government that continues to deny there has ever been even a single case of coronavirus in the country, despite heavy evidence to the contrary.

It is also the same Turkmen government that denies there are food shortages and mass unemployment in the country.

And the same Turkmen government that has still not acknowledged any methane leaks in the country and never did admit to Turkmenistan's oil industry polluting the Caspian Sea.

The Global Methane Pledge that Serdar Berdymukhammedov said his country was interested in "studying" is an initiative approved at this conference in Glasgow to reduce methane emissions by 30 percent before 2030.

It was signed by 103 countries -- but not by Turkmenistan.

Talant Mamytov has friends in high places.

In most Central Asian countries, the Central Election Commission does not do very much.

In countries such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan, the election commission chief will announce the date of the elections, when the polls open and close, provide a running count of the percentage of voters who have voted, and announce when the requisite number of voters have participated for the election to be valid.

The next day the commission issues a preliminary vote count and usually one to two weeks later the official, final tally in an election that will be deemed neither free nor fair by Western-based election-monitoring groups.

The election commissioner's role is barely noticed and quickly forgotten after the elections are held.

But in Kyrgyzstan, the role of the Central Election Commission (BShK) is very different and, with just weeks remaining before the country conducts its November 28 parliamentary elections, this is evident once again.

Candidate No. 7

Talant Mamytov is the speaker of Kyrgyzstan's parliament -- or at least he was -- and when he was and wasn't is the problem right now.

The Yntymak (Unity) party held its nominating congress on October 12 and Mamytov was recorded as candidate No. 7 on the party's list. He was also the "toraga," or speaker of parliament at that time.

On October 24, which was a Sunday, the BShK approved the Yntymak party list except for Mamytov.

The BShK determined that Mamytov was ineligible to be a candidate because he was the toraga and, according to the law on elections, "a candidate, from the moment of nomination, ceases to exercise official powers if he or she is serving in a public office."

That includes the toraga.

The BShK applied the law to Mamytov and disqualified him from being a candidate.

Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission: doing what it's supposed to be doing?
Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission: doing what it's supposed to be doing?

Anyone who has followed Kyrgyzstan's elections for the last 30 years has seen that it is possible to contest a BShK ruling in court and have it overturned. And so it has been with Mamytov.

On October 30, Yntymak accused the BShK of violating procedural rules and also questioned why the BShK met on the weekend, in the absence of a quorum, and released this "loose interpretation of the law" disqualifying Mamytov late on a Sunday evening.

Yntymak also claimed that Mamytov had stepped down as toraga and handed over the responsibility to deputy speaker Aida Kasymalieva.

Yntymak took the case to the Bishkek Administrative Court. On October 28, the court overruled the BShK decision on Mamytov. The BShK then filed an appeal against the court's ruling.

Mamytov was obligated to step down as toraga on October 12, when he was officially included on the Yntymak party list, but he did not hand over his duties to Kasymalieva until October 22.

Deputy speaker of parliament Talant Sydygaliev is also running as a candidate from the Ishenim (Belief) party, and he did relinquish his post when he was included as a candidate.

Yntymak countered that Mamytov was also a deputy in parliament and the same law that forbids someone serving in public office ends by saying "...with the exception of members of parliament or the president."

On November 2, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal from the BShK because of the "power of attorney [was] not properly certified and therefore it was not possible to establish its authenticity and accept it as evidence."

The BShK returned the appeal the same day after correcting the problem.

On November 4, the Supreme Court again returned the appeal to the BShK, this time because the application deadline had expired.

Mamytov will almost surely be a candidate when election day arrives. He has friends in high places.

In 2013, Mamytov was on trial with current President Sadyr Japarov and the current head of the State Committee for National Security, Kamchybek Tashiev, for creating public unrest and trying to overthrow the government in October 2012.

Kamchybek Tashiev (left to right), Sadyr Japarov and Talant Mamytov prepare to stand trial in Bishkek in 2013.
Kamchybek Tashiev (left to right), Sadyr Japarov and Talant Mamytov prepare to stand trial in Bishkek in 2013.

They were all convicted in late March 2013, with Japarov and Tashiev receiving 18 months in prison and Mamytov one year. They were all released in June 2013.

Together Again

Mamytov was named parliament speaker on November 4, 2020, and on November 14 he became acting president after Japarov, who had been in a prison cell one month earlier after being convicted on a kidnapping charge, stepped down as interim president so he could run for president in an election in January 2021.

Mamytov, Japarov, and Tashiev's sudden rise in position came after gross violations preceding and during the last parliamentary elections, on October 4, 2020, sparked unrest in Bishkek on October 5 that quickly brought down the government.

The BShK was busy ahead of those elections also. In July 2020, there was a problem over which faction of the splintered Social Democratic Party could register and eventually the Supreme Court overruled a BShK decision.

In late August there were problems over the registration of the Kyrgyzstan party, which the BShK said submitted its registration forms three minutes after the deadline had expired and that the party's authorized representatives were not the people who submitted the documents.

Then a candidate from Butun (United) Kyrgyzstan, Tursunbai Bakir-uulu, complained to the BShK that his name was on the list of candidates approved at the party congress but was not on the list of candidates submitted to the BShK. The BShK disqualified Butun Kyrgyzstan for having two different lists.

But courts overturned the BShK decisions and both parties competed in parliamentary elections and won seats, or would have won seats -- but since the unrest brought down the government, on October 6 the BShK annulled the election results. Japarov's interim government then thwarted several attempts by the BShK to reschedule the parliamentary elections.

A Barometer For Election Problems

The actions that have been consistently taken by the BShK make it an interesting facet of the country's election process in that unlike the other election commissions in the region, it seems to function as it is supposed to.

The composition of and the selection process for the BShK has changed over the 30 years the country has been independent, but the body regularly calls out violations -- including ones that upset the government.

Article 19, Section 11 of the Law on Election Commissions to Conduct Elections and Referenda says BShK decisions "can be canceled...through judicial procedures," and most of the BShK's rulings in controversial cases -- which have been many over the years -- were overturned by the courts.

And the independence and impartiality of Kyrgyzstan's court system has been called into question many times since the country gained independence in 1991. But BShK decisions set the stage for how voters see the conduct of elections – and that is the case in the recent controversy over Mamytov's candidacy.

Political analyst and American University of Central Asia in Bishkek professor Emil Joroev told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, known locally as Azattyk, that "this situation [regarding Mamytov] has a political context."

"The BShK could have just registered [Mamytov] and no one would have noticed," Joroev said. "The decision by the election commission to deny registration to a person who is a political heavyweight, close to the authorities, gave hope that the elections will be honest."

"But due to the cancellation of the BShK decision," Joroev continued, "the impression is that the voters were deceived."

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report

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About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.


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