Turkmenistan: Message Muddled on Election Observation Again
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) says it will not send observers to Turkmenistan's presidential election in February, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports.
The ODIHR made a needs-assessment missionDecember 7-9 and concluded:
Given that fundamental freedoms continue to be restricted, that the choice between competing political alternatives is limited, and that progress still remains to be made in bringing the legal framework in line with OSCE commitments for democratic elections, the OSCE/ODIHR NAM does not consider that the deployment of an election observation mission, even of a limited nature, would add value at this point in time.
Yet "mindful of the declared interest of the authorities of Turkmenistan to maintain a dialogue," ODIHR says it plans to send an Election Assessment Mission -- not to be confused with an observation mission. The mission will limit itself to reviewing laws and visiting some regions to gain insight into the electoral processes.
These fine points immediately got lost, intentionally or unintentionally, in the Turkmen and regional press. The Azerbaijani news service trend.az reported the story as "UN, OSCE and CIS to Observe Turkmen Elections."
Turkmen officials also made no distinction between "observation" and "assessment" and lumped together all foreign observers. The United Nations and Commonwealth of Independent States will also be sending observers, says trend.az.
The muddle about OSCE's limited assessment happened before, as an alleged US diplomatic cable dated October 15, 2008 and published by WikiLeaks revealed.
Monitors will only be able to enter Turkmenistan right before the elections and will have to leave when they are finished. Berdymukhamedov says Turkmen legislation is sufficiently reformed to meet international standards and there are alternative candidates on the ballot. Observers will be able to go anywhere they wish and that the Turkmen people will have an opportunity to take an active part in the elections.
ODIHR's December report makes it clear that despite a new presidential election law that more closely approximates international standards, there are major problems.
"This includes undue restrictions on the right to stand as a candidate, existing defamation provisions that limit the freedom of expression, and the lack of due process guarantees in the complaints and appeals framework to ensure effective legal redress," says ODIHR.
Most troubling is the failure to pass legislation on political parties, says the report; there is also a 15-year consecutive residency requirement for candidates and a requirement to have worked at a state agency or public association.
ODIHR also highlights the absence of private or independent electronic media. "The first private newspaper, Rysgal" is hailed, but the characterization is misleading as the publisher, the Union of Inudstrialists and Entrepreneurs, is controlled by the government. While formerly the Ministry of Culture and Broadcasting supervised the work of the media, an October 2011 presidential decree shifted this responsibility, and it's not clear which body is now responsible, says ODIHR. It's likely that the president has taken personal responsibility, judging from his constant control of the hiring and firing process of media executives.