Turkmenistan’s “election”: could it be all about cabinet politics?
“Election” officials in Turkmenistan are reporting that 96.28% of the country’s three million eligible voters have cast their ballots. As is well-known by now, the OSCE didn’t even bother trying to observe the poll, but the Daily Telegraph also reports that over the last two days, authorities had restricted entry across its land borders to foreigners and blocked many Western journalists from covering the election. Nevertheless, the ever-reliable RFE/RL reports at least one irregularity, albeit an anecdote, of a person voting for his/her entire family.
This election is only the third time in more than 20 years of independence that Turkmenistan has held a presidential election, and only the second time when there has been more than one candidate running. Berdimuhamedov won the first alternative election held in 2007, less than two months after Niyazov died. It’s hard to say what exactly the regime is hoping to achieve by this empty ritual. neweurasia‘s Annasoltan has come to the unsettling conclusion that it may just be an exercise in megalomania — seriously.
Personally, I wonder whether it may have something to do with life inside the presidential cabinet (insofar that we on the outside can know anyting about it at all). Back in 2010, IWPR reported that the key players in the cabinet are probably three Russians: presidential aides Viktor Khramov (who is said to be the engineer behind Turkmenistan’s ideology and chief censor) and Vladimir Umnov, and Alexander Zhadan, deputy head of the presidential administration. Due to their ethnicity, they cannot be president themselves — and they may prefer to be behind the scenes anyway.
Some analysts say that this troika is backed by Moscow, i.e., to secure its position in the natural gas market, which could explain how they’ve survived so long in what is almost certainly an unpleasant working environment. Now, I’m completely speculating at this point, as I know nothing about their working relationships and personal chemistries with each other, but considering the way in which Berdimuhamedov has been stuffing the government ranks with members of his tribe, as reported by both IWPR and a State Department cable revealed by WikiLeaks, perhaps the election was in some way a message to them, namely, that Berdimuhamedov is not powerless in what is supposed to be, after all, his nation-state. Conversely, they could have engineered the election to re-assure him of this.
Yeah, by airing these thoughts, I’m almost certainly eliminating my chances of ever being allowed to visit Turkmenistan in the near future… But on a cultural side note, apparently Berdimuhamedov appeared at an Ashgabat polling station accompanied by his father (who cast his ballot before the president, in deference to Turkmen tradition), his son, and his grandson, which is from what I understand a rare appearance of the Turkmen first family (note the lack of women in the small entourage; read this and this for background).
Ah, and the photos above are from the official Turkmenistan government website. As Annasoltan reported last week, everyday Turkmen were banned from photographing the election. Literally, it was deemed a criminal offense.