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Turkmen President Replaces Election Commission Head

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov
ASHGABAT -- Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has named a new election commission chief after dismissing his powerful predecessor.

Official media said on May 10 that Orazmyrat Niyazliyev was appointed to replace Myrat Garriyev as head of the Central Election and Referendums Commission.

Berdymukhammedov removed Garriyev, 79, from his post last week and named him a deputy chairman of the Council of Elders, an advisory body that meets once or twice a year.

Garriyev was the eminence grise behind the cult of personality surrounding Berdymukhammedov's long-serving predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, and is the man to whom Berdymukhammedov largely owes his elevation to the post of Turkmen president.

Immediately after Niyazov's death in December 2006, Garriyev proposed Berdymukhammedov to serve as acting president.

When presidential elections were held in February 2007, it was Garriyev who publicly announced that Berdymukhammedov had garnered 90 percent of the vote in an election deemed by international observers to be neither free nor fair.

In 2009, Garriyev proposed awarding Berdymukhammedov the prestigious Hero of Turkmenistan award. Berdymukhammedov reciprocated a week later by bestowing the Presidential Star award on Garriyev.

People have offered RFE/RL's Turkmen Service various explanations for Garriyev's sudden demotion.

Dowlet, 45, a construction worker in Ashgabat, said he thinks Berdymukhammedov may realize that he has no further need for Garriyev's "sincere loyalty" and decided to remove him from the political scene.

But Oraz aga, 67, a pensioner from Ashgabat, disagrees. He said he thinks no one else could take over the political role that Garriyev has played.

"There could be another reason for his transfer to the Council of Elders," he said. "His role as chairman of the Central Election Commission and the role he played in the political life [of Turkmenistan] contradicted each other. Now, in his new position, there will be no restrictions on his political role as a 'locomotive' of the personality cult surrounding the president."

Niyazliyev is a former deputy chairman of the election commission and a former governor of Balkan Province.