Turkmenistan: Doing an Ashgabat Double Take
In his January 9 televised campaign speech, Berdymukhamedov repeatedly linked Turkmenistan’s economic development to a need to democratize the country’s political system. He even called "for the creation of new parties and the organizations of independent mass media," explaining that Turkmenistan would benefit from "parties that would consolidate the people, inspire the people to creative labor in the name of the further flourishing of our Motherland." There was a catch to his pronouncement, naturally. Democratization will not apply to his own presidential reelection bid on February 12.
Not surprisingly, state media reported January 11 that the country’s rubber-stamp Mejlis, or parliament, passed a law creating a hypothetical foundation for the formation of new political parties. With only a month before elections, though, there is not enough time for any potential political party to meet registration requirements and put forward a presidential candidate to challenge Berdymukhamedov. Under Turkmen law, candidates have until 25 days before elections to register.
Some of the things coming out of Berdymukhamedov’s mouth have certainly caused surprise among Turkmenistan watchers. Take this quote: “Public trust, civic activism … these are not only decisive conditions for the consolidation of civil society, but the necessary preconditions for authentic power of the people.” Such talk doesn’t differ all that much from what Sakharov said; “Peace, progress, human rights -- these three goals are indissolubly linked.”
Of course, few people at this point believe Berdymukhamedov is sincere. Most likely, he’s just trying to insulate his authoritarian government from unrest currently buffeting neighboring countries. He’s talked a lot about making changes – about improving the education system, easing access to the Internet and even liberalizing the political sphere -- but it seems like none of his past promises have been fulfilled.