Turkmenistan: Staking Out the Paddock at the Presidential Race
It looks like we’ve got a presidential horse race underway in Turkmenistan. According to the semi-official Turkmenistan.ru website, several men who profess to want to unseat the incumbent, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, have hit the campaign trail.
In all, seven candidates are challenging Berdymukhamedov in the February 12 election, a crowded presidential field that seems odd, given that watchdog groups describe Turkmenistan as one of the most repressive states on earth. The country also has only one legally registered political party, the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, which is under Berdymukhamedov’s thumb.
The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) announced earlier in January that it will not bother to send observers for the voting. In a statement, ODIHR said it "does not consider that the deployment of an election observation mission, even of a limited nature, would add value at this point in time."
Also in early January, Turkmenistan’s rubber-stamp legislature paved the way for the creation of new political parties. But Berdymukhamedov’s past pledges to liberalize Turkmenistan’s political system have stalled.
The outside world may see the democratic process in Turkmenistan as a charade, but that isn’t stopping the candidates themselves from pressing the flesh. Turkmenistan.ru reported January 23 that one of Berdymukhamedov’s seven challengers, Energy Minister Yarmuhammet Orazgulyev, made a campaign appearance in Akhal Province. Meanwhile, Esendurdy Gayypov, the director of a cotton processing plant, turned up to stump in Dashoguz, and Annageldy Yazmyradov, a Construction Ministry functionary, met with citizens in Turkmenabat in Lebap Province.
Burdymukhamedov opened his campaign with a televised speech January 21 in which he pledged to transform Turkmenistan into an industrial power. And despite the crowded field, the smart money in this race is betting on Berdymukhamedov to win, place and show.
Justin Burke is Eurasianet's publisher.