President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has used his considerable "administrative resources" -- i.e. his total control over state television -- to announce his program in the essentially uncontested presidential elections on February 12.
The Turkmen leader nevertheless took the faux-humble approach, saying that his statement was important "for me, with the heavy but noble burden to serve my people" and for Turkmens themselves "who have the opportunity to oversee all the facts of my promises today."
Turkmens actually don't have that opportunity, without free press, but it's interesting that the notion of public oversight has become urgent enough at least to simulate.
Berdymukhamedov then explained his campaign promise: "to turn Turkmenistan from a primarily agrarian country to an industrial power" -- a pledge that capturedthe headlines.
But there's some obvious questions lingering under all the president's invocations of the need to obtain the latest advanced technologies.
For one, what has Berdymukhamedov been doing for the last five years, if his country is still "primarily agrarian"? To be sure, he's proudly mentioned all the new factories built on his watch, but it's not clear how well they're producing or what percentage of state revenue they bring, given that statistics are either hidden or exaggerated.
More to the point, it's the gas and oil industry, not cotton or wheat that already make up the lion's share of Turkmenistan's GDP (a lot of which goes into the president's own account) -- making the president's emphasis on moving from nomadic pastoralism to farming a bit strange.
In his January 9 televised campaign speech, Berdymukhamedov repeatedly linked Turkmenistan’s economic development to a need to democratize the country’s political system. He even called "for the creation of new parties and the organizations of independent mass media," explaining that Turkmenistan would benefit from "parties that would consolidate the people, inspire the people to creative labor in the name of the further flourishing of our Motherland." There was a catch to his pronouncement, naturally. Democratization will not apply to his own presidential reelection bid on February 12.
Not surprisingly, state media reported January 11 that the country’s rubber-stamp Mejlis, or parliament, passed a law creating a hypothetical foundation for the formation of new political parties. With only a month before elections, though, there is not enough time for any potential political party to meet registration requirements and put forward a presidential candidate to challenge Berdymukhamedov. Under Turkmen law, candidates have until 25 days before elections to register.
Neitral'nyi Turkmenistan, the state Russian-language newspaper, now has an English-language supplement, the State News Agency of Turkmenistan (TDH) reported. It looks to be as propagandistic as the Russian edition, with "achievements and prospects of the modernization of the Turkmen fuel and energy sector" and a priority for "diversifying gas exports."
The health section of the new insert "spotlights the successes of the state health policy." There are predictable items on Avaza, the president's pet project to create a tourist zone on the Caspian sea coast; on the restored circus; and an ancient calender which is yet another achievement of the Turkmen people.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has now installed Viktor Zaitsev as editor-in-chief of Neitral'nyi Turkmenistan, turkmenistan.ru reports. His predecessor Vladimov Gurbanov, was dismissed last month without any explanation at the time.
Now the semi-official news site turkmenistan.ru reports that Gubanov, who is also chair of the Committee on Science, Education and Culture of the Mejlis (parliament) was released from his duties at the newspaper "in connection with an increase in his work load at the Mejlis."
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) says it will not send observers to Turkmenistan's presidential election in February, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports.
Given that fundamental freedoms continue to be restricted, that the choice between competing political alternatives is limited, and that progress still remains to be made in bringing the legal framework in line with OSCE commitments for democratic elections, the OSCE/ODIHR NAM does not consider that the deployment of an election observation mission, even of a limited nature, would add value at this point in time.
Yet "mindful of the declared interest of the authorities of Turkmenistan to maintain a dialogue," ODIHR says it plans to send an Election Assessment Mission -- not to be confused with an observation mission. The mission will limit itself to reviewing laws and visiting some regions to gain insight into the electoral processes.
These fine points immediately got lost, intentionally or unintentionally, in the Turkmen and regional press. The Azerbaijani news service trend.az reported the story as "UN, OSCE and CIS to Observe Turkmen Elections."
Turkmen officials also made no distinction between "observation" and "assessment" and lumped together all foreign observers. The United Nations and Commonwealth of Independent States will also be sending observers, says trend.az.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, foreground, December 23, 2011, Moscow
The Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP) was the main topic of talks between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in Moscow, the Russian business daily Kommersant reported December 23.
According to Kommersant's source in the Russian government, Medvedev planned to offer an increase in gas purchases from Ashgabat, to deflect Turkmenistan's participation in the European-backed TCP. Berdymukhamedov will likely refuse the offer because the potential volume of gas would come with a lower price, Kommersant believes.
The two leaders haven't talked very frequently -- the last substantial meeting was in Turkmenbashi in October 2010, although there were a few conversations on the margins of multilateral meetings. Of all the Caspian leaders, Berdymukhamedov seems to be the least frequent guest in Moscow. No agreements were anticipated, but "during the [Turkmen president's] trip we are counting on getting a clear answer to the question of whether Turkmenistan will take part in the Trans-Caspian pipeline," Kommersant's source said.
Russia was hoping to scuttle the TCP formally at the November 2010 summit of the littoral sites by signing a convention on the Caspian Sea's legal status to mandate equal participation of all the countries in every project. But the agreement never came together and now the next summit is not until later next year.
The editor of Turkmenistan's Russian-language daily, Neitral'nyi Turkmenistan has been fired by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the Russian wire service Interfax reported.
Vladimir Gubanov, who was both the editor of Neitral'nyi Turkmenistan and the chairman of the Mejlis (parliamentary) committee on science, education, and culture, was dismissed on December 27. No reason was provided.
A search through recent weeks of the newspaper didn't yield any indication of articles that may have been controversial. They are the usual boiler-plate state-approved pieces extolling Berdymukhamedov's various initiatives in construction, agriculture and foreign policy, discussing trade with Turkey, and enthusiastically covering the heavily-controlled elections campaign.
The president's chronic unhappiness with media has often led to sudden firings in the past.
The dismissal comes several days after the Turkmen leader's visit to Moscow, where he discussed the situation of Russians in Turkmenistan, pressured now to give up their dual citizenship and opt for Turkmen passports or be forced to leave the country.
Irina Stolbunova, the deputy editor, has now been made the acting editor.
The newspaper, published since 1924, has a circulation of about 50,000, and comes out daily except Sundays .
Woman casts vote in Turkmenistan's February 2007 elections, under the gaze of a bust of past dictator Saparmurat Niyazov.
With less than two months before the February 12 presidential elections in Turkmenistan, 14 rival candidates have now appeared on the scene in the last week, following the announcement of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov's nomination December 15.
-Kakagedli Abdyllayev, managing director, Mary Oil Refinery Turkmengaz
-Saparmurat Batyrov, director, Geoktep Cotton Spinning Factory
-Rejep Bazarov, deputy mayor, Dashoguz velayat (region)
-Begench Borjakov, mayor, Gurbansoltan-edje district in Dashoguz velayat
-Myrat Charykulyev, managing director, Mary-Ozot chemical company
-Esendurdy Gayipov, head of Lebapgurlushyk manufacturing association, Ministry of Construction
-Myratgeldi Jumageldiyev, mayor, Halach district
-Aydogdy Kakabayev, mayor, Baba Dayhan District
-Gurbanmamed Mollaniyazov, manager of a trust of Turkmennebit (state oil)
-Yagmur Orazov, director of Scientific Research Institute for Cotton Cultivation
-Yarmuhammed Orazkuliev, Minister of Energy and Industry
-Nikita Rejepov, managing director, Turkmen Oil Geophysics Company
-Rozygeldi Rozgulyev, acting director, Lebab Water Ways
-Annageldy Yazmuradov, Minister of Water Management
All of them were nominated by state-controlled industrial or civic groups. The State News Agency of Turkmenistan has maintained enthusiastic coverage of this simulated of democracy with declarations like this:
The Turkmen Foreign Ministry denounced MN's claim in a December 14 article that Russians with dual Russian and Turkmen citizenship would be forced to leave Turkmenistan if they chose to keep Russian citizenship, as new Turkmen legislation barred recognition of dual status.
Yet in fact, the Ministry's subsequent statement confirmed MN's concerns that Turkmenistan is in the final stages of a campaign to force out Russian-speakers. Ashgabat claims that the 1993 agreement between Turkmenistan and Russia on dual citizenship was designed to resolve residential, property and family issues for those leaving Turkmenistan. But this interpretation isn't grounded in the text of the agreement, and Turkmenistan unilaterally withdrew from its enforcement in 2003.
According to MN's sources, Moscow was prepared to start legal consultations for citizens caught by the new policy, but Ashgabat was uninterested in cooperation. The Kremlin has not pushed the issue on behalf of its citizens for the last two decades, and accordingly, the status of the Russians in Turkmenistan rose and fall on the fate of gas-price negotiations. With gas consumption down in Europe, and facing competition from China, the Russian government isn't buying Turkmen gas, and doesn’t have leverage to lobby for its citizens.
When Geldimurat Nurmuhammedov former minister of culture, publicly denounced his country's lack of democracy last month, few doubted that there would be some kind of consequences.
Within days of his interview with Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, tax and financial inspectors arrived at the office of Esbap, the construction firm owned by his brother, the Chronicles of Turkmenistan (chrono-tm.org), the independent exile web site reported. The company had never had any problems with the authorities before, but suddenly, it was forced to close. Berdymurad Nurmuhamedov, a lawyer who formerly worked in the prosecutor's office, was summoned by the Ministry of National Security for further interrogation about the company.
Many Turkmen-watchers were surprised at Nurmuhamedov's outspokenness, as he had served the government faithfully for years. In 1992 under past dictator Saparmurat Niyazov, he held the title of vice premier and was a member of the presidential council. But since 1994, he has been jobless and under surveillance by security police, prohibited from traveling outside Turkmenistan.
In his earlier years, Nurmuhamedov held Communist Party posts in Dashoguz. A journalist who requested anonymity told chrono-tm.org that he recalled Nurmuhamedov as a man of principle, "sober-thinking and with a good memory." But another unnamed former subordinate of Nurmuhamedov described him as petty and nationalist, hostile to non-Turkmens. The reason for his fall from power is not known.
The Turkmen government often uses the method of targeting family members in order to harass critics. For example, a number of officials in the failed 2002 coup were arrested, along with their family members, or relatives lost their jobs or were barred from travel abroad. Usually, the secret police hope with this tactic to get the critic’s own relatives to pressure him
Screen-grab of out-take from state TV program, shown by Turkmen Dissident TV, 2011
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, ruler of Turkmenistan, has been steadily building up his cult of personality with awards to himself; encouragement of a popular nickname for himself ("Protector"); 24/7 coverage of his activities by state TV; state publication of his books on myriad topics; and constant presiding over mass festivals and performances in his honor.
With the death of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi and now North Korea's Kim Jong-il, there is more room for Berdymukhamedov -- who wasn't making the cut in similar media lists in the past.
In the early years after he came to power in 2007 following the death of past dictator Saparmurat Niyazov (who was also on Parade's list), Berdymukhamedov made a few corrections of his predecessor's excesses -- like restoring years of education and health clinics. That was enough for the world to greet him as a reformer and kept him off the tyrants' lists with the likes of Uzbekistan's strongman for 22 years, President Islam Karimov.
Now the Turkmen reforms are seen as shallow and incomplete, and his increasing control over every aspect of life in Turkmenistan is starting to become visible.
Parade charts Berdymukhamedov's rise to power from his dental practice in Ashgabat by currying favor with Niyazov and explains how the portraits of himself everywhere, his manipulation of the constitution to get in office, and keeping more than half the population below the poverty line, despite Turkmenistan's hydrocarbons riches all helped earn Berdymukhamedov a spot on the dictators' list.