Here's a shocker: a former Turkmen cultural official is criticizing the lack of democracy in Turkmenistan in Ashgabat, i.e. not from exile or abroad, but speaking inside the country -- and publicly, and using his own name. That's extremely rare in Turkmenistan because of the great risks involved. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reports that former Culture and Tourism Minister Geldimurat Nurmuhammedov has complained that there's only one party in Turkmenistan -- the ill-named Democracy Party -- which is a "tool used to play a trick during elections":
"If someone wants to set up a political party today, there is no legislation for doing so," he said. "There are people who want to create a party. But they are told [by the Mejlis] that 'there is no law on establishing political parties.' Everything is blocked."
As we reported last week, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov's pocket parliamentarians have been trying to snow the public in state-controlled media interviews that they will have "democratic" elections ostensibly open to free nominations. There's no mention at all at the lack of enabling legislation for parties -- which is definitely required in a country where the constitutional norms for freedom of association aren't upheld and there's no independent judiciary to enforce them. While the prospect is held out for registering citizens' nominations groups in the absence of parties, such registration will be totally at the discretion of local officials and various technical hurdles will likely prevent the emergence of truly independent alternative candidates. Even so, the Soviet Union began to democratize in the late 1980s using this method of permitting district-level nomination groups, even with the "leading role" of the Communist Party preventing legal opposition parties. Eventually, under pressure from human rights campaigners like physicist Andrei Sakharov, the monopoly status of the Communist Party was abolished. In neighboring Uzbekistan, some years ago the government permitted half dozen other parliamentarian parties beside the ruling party to registered, although they are under obvious state control. Turkmenistan has not even done that much, despite Berdymukhamedov's claims that he would allow a second, agricultural party to come into existence. It also looks as if Berdymukhamedov's vague invitation to the opposition to return from exile and take part in the elections wasn't really sincere. Nurmuhammedov was chairman of the Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Committee of the Presidential Council in 1992 before he was appointed as a cabinet minister, says RFE/RL. Currently he is a lawyer serving as an advisor to international companies. He doesn't say if he has aspirations himself of running for office, but such opposition as has ever come from inside Turkmenistan has often come from former officials who still have enough connections to the levers of power to get attention.