by Yacoob Cassim
Turkmenistan President Gerbanguly Berdimukhamedov has won his second term as President in a questionable election. Berdimukhamedov won 97.7 % of the vote in the gas rich nation in Central Asia. The election Commission Chairman Gulmurat Muradov had said these were preliminary elections and that election Authorities still have to count ballot papers cast in embassies abroad.
Berdimukhamedov who succeed the late eccentric dictator Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006 has introduced limited reforms but remains the dominant figure in an increasingly authoritarian regime. Although he had allowed no Government Parties to field election candidates they were only allowed to speak to voters at theatres and cultural centres but these events were not televised nor were debates held.
Berdimukhamedov has introduced limited reforms such as introducing foreign languages to the educational curriculum and reopened the village hospitals after Niyazov closed them. The fielding of opposition candidates among them included regional Governors, national law makers and heads of companies. The elections have been criticized by International Rights Groups as being tightly controlled. However observers from the regional organization the Common Wealth of Independent States have praised the election process as being free and well- organized.
In Turkmenistan the regime has secured support amongst the country’s 5 million people through a combination of authoritarianism and generous Welfare subsidies. This would include free household gas and salt. So while Berdimukhamedov’s style of leadership remains somewhat driven by a personality cult like his predecessor and he relies on maintaining a police state to silence his actual opponents the country remains deeply divided.
Turkmenistan relies heavily on supplying natural gas to Western Nations such as those in the European Union. This has been about being able to introduce a new seven year term for the Presidency and doing away with term limits and effectively abolishing the age of 70 as around the time the President should retire. This is all intended to make sure that Berdimukhamedov remains President for life.
Unlike what happened in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen in 2011 I don’t see much hope for change in this former Soviet republic. The Status quo is likely to remain the same with statues made of gold and Marble and some even being gold plated being erected in Ashgabat. Both Niyazov and Berdimukhamedov spared no expense in erecting such monuments to their egos. This is likely to remain the situation for decades to come.
Al Jazeera, Voa news, Washington Post, Daily Sabah,