The final flickers of hope for anybody expecting that Kurbanguly Berdymuhammedov’s interim succession would signal a shift to openness and democracy will be concerned by his latest efforts to install himself in late Saparmurat Niyazov’s place.
David Holley in the Los Angeles Times reports on the amendments the interim has effected already to ensure that he becomes leader:
The country’s supreme legislative body, the 2,507-member People’s Council, or Khalk Maslahty, revised the constitution to allow acting President Kurbanguly Berdymuhammedov to run in the presidential election. Before it was amended, the constitution barred the acting president from being a candidate.
At the same time, other modifications have been made to the constitution. In a change to article 60, if the president is unable to perform his duties, responsibilities will pass to the deputy chairman of the Cabinet, a task performed by Berdymuhammedov until recently. Presidential elections can be held no later than sixty days after the president has relinquished power.
For formality’s sake, six candidates have been named as contenders for the elections, slated for Feb. 11. These include Berdymuhammedov, the deputy Minister for Oil and Gas and Mineral Resources Ishankuly Nuriyev; Abadan mayor Orazmurat Karajayev; Turkmenbashi mayor Ashirniyaz Pommanov; first deputy Governor of Dashoguz province Amanniyaz Atajikov; and the Governor of the Karabekaul district in Lebap province Mukhammednazar Gurbanov.
From left to right: Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov, President Kurbanguly Berdymuhammedov, Democratic Party of Turkmenistan chairman Onjik Musayev.
It is worth noting that among these nondescript phantom candidates, none of whom was approved unanimously like Berdymuhammedov, there are no regional leaders from the Mary province, where some observers of Turkmen power dynamics have anticipated potential dissent could come from. There is little available information on these characters, and neither can it be expected that they will gain much exposure in the national media. Berdymuhammedov has de facto identified with the nation’s future leadership in the crucial early period.
For all it is worth, the exiled opposition have also advanced a candidate, former former deputy prime minister and Central Bank chairman Khudaiberdy Orazov. However, not only has Orazov not gained approval from the Khalk Maslahaty, but he is also barred by a rule that requires any prospective president to have lived in Turkmenistan for ten years before standing for president. Orazov lives in Sweden, where he leads the Watan opposition movement.
The United Democratic Opposition of Turkmenistan (UDOT) also advanced a candidate, Nurberdy Nurmuhammedov, chairman of the Agzybirlik democratic movement. UDOT leader Advy Kuliyev told RIA-Novosti that he considers Nurmuhammedov the most credible alternative from the opposition’s ranks.
Meanwhile, there has been the expected speculation about the behind-the-scene struggle for ascendancy, but the facts about this still remain unclear. In a report on Monday, Russian newspaper Vremya Novostei said that a swathe of arrests of around 140 mostly mid- and low-ranking civil servants had taken place. The most senior figure also alleged to have been detained was also Defense Minister Gen. Agageldy Mammetgeldiyev, who had earlier been tipped to head the nominally important Khalk Maslhaty. Either his arrest or his transfer to the Khalk Maslahaty would be significant events in themselves, as they would indicate an effort to neutralise rivals to power from within the so-called power ministries.
However, a televised joint session of the State Security Council and Cabinet on Tuesday, showed Mammetgeldiyev sitting at Berdymuhammedov’s right-hand side, thus putting lie to rumours about his arrest.
Current reporting in the Russian-language press currently points to the conclusion that any power struggle that was to take place is already over. Kommersant writes about a letter appearing in Monday’s edition of Neutralniy Turkmenistan (which can be downloaded here for Russian speakers), written by an admiring correspondent urging Berdymuhammedov to pursue Niyazov’s legacy. That such fulsome praise is already appearing in the official press is surely a sign that the trimmings of power have been quick to install themselves.
Some more instances of craven toadying came courtesy of the chairman of the Central Elections Committee in Ashgabat, Murat Kariyev, who remarked that the polls have been as good as held to all intents and purposes. He also added that the elections would be open to scrutiny by international electoral observers. Given that the winning candidate will probably have only been able to run by perverting the constitution that any respectable monitoring organisation. Countries sponsoring less scrupulous monitors, possibly including Russia, may seize upon this opportunity to provide their moral support to this yet illegitimate government. Kariyev’s remarks may be read as a signal to the international community, Eastern and Western, about the kind of basis dialogue will be based. Either way, nobody should question the abilities of Turkmen electoral monitors Kariyev says:
“Our national observers are far better than international observers, because they work from the heart and they don’t go looking for imperfections.”
Not wanting to be any less in the enthusiasm stakes, the chairman of the state-sponsored successor to the Communist Party, the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, Ondjik Musayev suggested that the Khalk Maslahaty should elect Berdymuhammedov as president with immediate effect:
“[Berdymuhammedov] has shown himself to be a worthy successor to Niyazov; an experienced politician that was handed the most challenging tasks of government. Lately, Niyazov has considered him his top subordinate.”
“Berdymuhammedov has extensive experience in government. In the past, he also worked as a teacher, heading the dentistry faculty. He has exercised the most humane profession of medicine.”
The electoral legitimisation of Berdymuhammedov’s grasp on power, sponsored by the chief of the presidential guard Akmurad Rejepov, will come closer than previously anticipated. According to some speculation, Niyazov’s birth date, Feb. 19, was slated initially, but that option was overlooked for an even earlier date. This leaves little more than five weeks of preparation for the polls, which should safely exclude the likelihood of external interference.
Welcome to the new era of democracy, Turkmenistan-style.
UPDATE: Newsinfo.ru reports (via gazeta.ru) that opposition candidate for the presidency, mentioned above, Nurberdy Nurmuhammedov has gone missing in Ashgabat. According to an ODOT statement, Nurmuhammedov has not been seen since Dec. 23. Nurmuhammedov gave an interview to Radio Free Europe shortly before being reported missing.