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Turkmen Assembly Discussing Political Future

A session of Turkmenistan's Halk Maslakhaty (file photo) (AFP) December 26, 2006 -- Turkmenistan's People's Assembly, the country's highest legislative body, has approved acting Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov as a candidate for president in a February vote.

Earlier, the 2,500 delegates of Turkmenistan's People's Assembly today unanimously voted to hold the country's presidential election on February 11.

The assembly also approved five other candidates to participate in the election.

The election was necessitated by the December 21 death from heart failure of long-time Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, also known as Turkmenbashi. Niyazov, who had been named "president for life," died without designating a successor.

MORE: A photo gallery presentation of Niyazov's December 24 funeral.

"Let's hold this election on February 11, and hold it at a high level -- I believe very much [we will]," Election Commission Chairman Murat Garriev said at the assembly.

Following the People's Assembly vote, Garriev, said the upcoming election will be "of the highest standards."

Berdymukhammedov, who opened today's meeting, said all presidential candidates must follow the path established by Niyazov. Berdymukhammedov said last week that the election will be held "on a democratic basis," which, he said, was laid down by the country's leader.

Berdymukhammedov, who was a dentist by training before becoming a deputy prime minister and health minister, was appointed interim president on December 21. He has officially become a potential successor to Niyazov. Under the constitution, the acting president is formally barred from running. But RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported that the People's Assembly delegates offered to amend the constitution to clear his candidacy.

The assembly today selected five other candidates who will run in the February vote along with Berdymukhammedov. They include a deputy energy minister, two city mayors, one deputy regional governor, and one district head.

Observers say the country's last presidential elections were far from being fair and democratic. In the 1992 presidential election, Niyazov was the only candidate, winning 99.5 percent of the vote, according to official figures.

An Ambitious Agenda

Berdymukhammedov listed the points the assembly is scheduled to cover.

Acting President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (TASS file photo)

"This is the agenda," he said. "Point 1 -- about the death of the first president of Turkmenistan, the chairman of the People's Assembly of Turkmenistan, Turkmenbashi the Great; Point 2 -- about amendments to the Constitution of Turkmenistan; adoption of the Constitution of Turkmenistan; Point 3 -- about the election of the president of Turkmenistan; adoption of the [election] law of Turkmenistan; Point 4 -- approval of the structure of the vote-counting group; Point 5 -- about changes to the structure of the Elections and Referendums Committee; Point 6 -- assigning the date of the presidential election; Point 7 -- proposing and approving candidates for the post of president; Point 8 -- assigning the date of the 19th Session of [the People's Assembly]; Point 9 -- adopting an appeal of the 18th session of [the People's Assembly] to the nation of Turkmenistan."

Berdymukhammedov, a deputy prime minister and health minister, was appointed interim president on December 21. Berdymukhammedov is considered a potential presidential candidate, along with senior members of the country's powerful security apparatus, such as Akmurat Redzhepov, the influential head of the presidential guard. But none of them has declared his candidacy yet.

Opposition Tries To Get In

Members of Turkmenistan's exiled political opposition have pledged to agree on a single opposition candidate. One of the main opposition groups in exile today named their candidate for president; the United Democratic Opposition backed Nurberdy Nurmammedov, who the group described as a long-time democracy activist. But a leading member of the opposition movement, former Turkmen Foreign Minister Avdy Kuliev, told RFE/RL's Russian Service that Nurmammedov has disappeared.

"Today, we hear that [Nurberdy Nurmammedov] has been arrested, that he has disappeared," Kuliev said. "We cannot find out where he is. He was taken away on [December] 23 and no one of his relatives has been told where Nurberdy Nurmammedov is now."

Turkmen authorities have warned that members of the exiled opposition will be arrested if they try to enter Turkmenistan.

The opposition has called on the European Union, Russia, and the United States to help ensure that Turkmen authorities organize a democratic election, overseen by international observers, in which the opposition can participate.

Many countries are keeping a close watch on the events unfolding in Turkmenistan, since the country has vast oil and gas reserves and is a key energy supplier.

There is concern that Turkmenistan could face political instability and a power struggle in the midst of the power vacuum left by Niyazov's death.

(RFE/RL Turkmen Service Director Oguljamal Yazliyev contributed to this report.)

Saparmurat Niyazov, 1940-2006

Saparmurat Niyazov, 1940-2006

Turkment President Saparmurat Niyazov (

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