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Will History Repeat Itself In Turkmenistan?

Turkmenistan's president for life, again?
Turkmenistan's president for life, again?
The chairman of Turkmenistan's Central Election Commission, Myrat Garryev, has called on Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov to keep his post as the country's president forever. The request came last month during a meeting of the cabinet of ministers devoted to the 19th anniversary of the independence of Turkmenistan.

Garryev has long been famous for his fawning over the president. He is known as one of the key people behind the cult of personality built around the country's previous president, Saparmurat Niyazov.

It doesn't require much effort to understand that the aim in appointing an 80-year-old man as the chief of the Central Election Commission is to humiliate and undermine the needs of the Turkmen people.

Every single word said by Myrat Garryev is likely prepared beforehand and handed to him. It is only matter of repeating what is written on the paper. It must be very interesting for everyone to know who are the authors of such scenes during government meetings.

Like in all countries of the former Soviet Union, the post of president of the republic was established in Turkmenistan in 1990 before it declared its independence.

Twenty years ago, on October 27, 1990, Saparmurat Niyazov got 98.3 percent of the vote in the presidential election. He was the only candidate.

The new constitution of independent Turkmenistan was adopted on May 18, 1992. In June of that same year, presidential elections were held. Niyazov was again the only candidate and got 99 percent of the vote.

It was obvious that neither of those elections were conducted in line with democratic principles. The Turkmen people used to elect khans in the mid-19th century, but more than 100 years had passed since the Turkmen people had elected a leader according to their wishes. They had lost the habit.

The difficulties experienced during the first days of independence were not limited to the collapse of the USSR but also included the ignorant mistakes that Niyazov made in the management of the country’s political and economic spheres.

Popular Russian economist Yegor Gaidar, in his book titled "The Death of the Empire," states that "when the USSR collapsed, only two republics had enough resources to survive on their own among all Soviet republics. Those were the Russian Federation and Turkmenistan. The rest of the republics in the Soviet Union did not have such a possibility."

These are some facts to be taken into account to understand the whole situation.

A presidential term of five years is in the Turkmen Constitution and is in line with usual practices by democratic countries all over the world. But during a Council of Elders meeting in 1994, Niyazov and his companions in those days -- Onjuk Musaev, Muratberdi Sopyev, Myrat Garryev, and others, who used the state for their personal profit and disclaimed any responsibility for the mistakes made in the early years of independence -- decided to move the next presidential elections from 1997 to 2002.

Niyazov then canceled the presidential elections in 2002 and managed to be appointed as president for life during the ninth meeting of the People’s Council in 1999. This led to the violation of the constitution for the second time.

During his meetings with representatives of international organizations, whenever the issue of his "presidency for life" would be raised, Niyazov would say, "I am the first president. This is the reason why my people respect me and chose me as president for life. But the next presidents will not be forever. They will definitely be elected."

After Niyazov’s death, not only the people of Turkmenistan but also the international community had great hopes for the democratization of Turkmenistan. And the nation closed its eyes to the violations of the constitution and the unlawful appointment of Berdymukhammedov, since people were very hopeful about the new president.

If Myrat Garryev’s proposal to appoint Berdymukhammedov as president for life is heard more regularly in the country's mass media and in regular government meetings, Turkmenistan will march into a totalitarian regime from an authoritarian one. Such an act will lead to severe dictatorship, which will continue for a long time. Turkmenistan will lose its natural peace and tensions will escalate, leading to the emergence of a variety of radical powers. Turkmenistan will isolate itself from the world community even further and an iron curtain will rise around it. Dissidents to the government will be identified as "enemies of the motherland."

Can the cycle of history turn out differently this time? The answer depends on Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov -- and the people’s will.

-- Dovlet Hojamedov

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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