Turkmenistan re-elects its president with 98% of votes

ABO Editorial Staff*

A Bulgarian vote in Turkmenistan. The 8 puppet-opponents were placed there just to simulate a competition, but, in reality, there never was one: the president of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, was re-elected on Sunday February, 12 with 97.67% of the votes for his third term. Thanks to a recently approved constitutional amendment, he will govern for the next seven years.

A power in place for the last 10 years

Berdymukhamedov, 59, took the reins of the former Soviet Republic in central Asia 10 years ago, after the sudden death, in December 2006, of the first president of independent Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, who called himself ‘’the father of the Turkmen people’’ but had ruled with an iron hand over the last two decades, transforming the country into an autarky. His personal dentist, Berdymukhamedov, was Minister of Health at the time: there was no lack of controversy as he was appointed interim president by the National Security Council, after the impeachment of the president of Parliament at the time, Ovezgueldí Atáyev, who was hoping for the right to take the leadership. At the time, it was hoped that the advent of Berdymukhamedov would open the country up to the West, it being almost entirely deserted but so rich in gas reserves as to be ranked fourth in the world in terms of estimated reserves: soon after coming to power, Berdymukhamedov proclaimed the start of a ‘’new renaissance’’ and launched the dismantling of the personality cult of Niyazov, who had governed the country between 1985 and 2006 (from 1999 as president for life): he cancelled a series of bans established by his predecessor, thanks to which the Turkmens were able to go back to enjoying the opera, the circus and the ballet; he also abolished the new names with which the days and months of the calendar were designated (one month was named after Niyazov’s mother); he re-introduced English and physical education classes in schools; he began to dismantle the ubiquitous symbols of his predecessor (via portraits, including a golden statue that rotated to follow the sun, which was transported from the center of Ashgabat to the outskirts). But soon it became clear that little to nothing had changed.

Berdymukhamedov, 59, took the reins of the former Soviet Republic in central Asia 10 years ago, following the sudden death in December 2006, of the first president of independent Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov

The first elections after the constitutional reform

Today, there is no newspaper in Turkmenistan that will not constantly celebrate the gestures of the country’s ‘’strong man’’, often publishing his poems on the front page; a chorus of thousands of people sung a song written by him; his awkward attempt to become a DJ at his grandson’s party ended up in the early evening news. A small crack in his fawning media coverage opened up in 2013 when a video emerged with the president’s spectacular fall, being a horse-riding enthusiast, from his favorite horse; but the state media carefully refrained from covering the story. In 2015, a golden statue of Berdymukhamedov’s, atop one of his beloved horses, with a dove in his hand. Despite his ‘’moderation’’ — in words at least — being the distinctive feature of his rule, Berdymukhamedov built a presidential palace in Ashgabat with golden domes that ended up in the Guinness Book of Records as having the whitest marble (at an estimated cost of €235 million). However, now the country feels the pressure of the collapse of the energy price market in recent years. ‘’Turkmenistan has never had free and transparent elections and these are no exception’’, the director of the Human Rights Watch for Europe and Central Asia, Hugh Williamson, complained. According to Williamson, true elections cannot be held in a country whose authorities ‘’strictly control all aspects of public life, in breach of fundamental rights, such as the freedom of press and civil society’’. Sunday’s elections were the first following the constitutional reform, approved in September 2016, which increased the presidential term from five to seven years and eliminated the 70-year old age limit to be a candidate for the leadership of the State.

Sunday’s elections were the first following the constitutional reform, approved in September 2016, which increased the presidential term from five to seven years and eliminated the 70-year old age limit to be a candidate for the leadership of the State

*Originally published on Abo.net