The political participation of the population is not planned in Turkmenistan. Their simulation is also only rudimentary. Under President Niyazov, presidential elections were completely abolished. President Berdimuhamedow reintroduced it and wins by a large margin. According to official information, the turnout in parliamentary and presidential elections is regularly over 95%, so far it has only been below 90% once and on the other hand it has always been close to 100%. In the last referendum on Niyazov’s presidency in 1994, according to official figures, voter turnout was exactly 100% and nationwide only 212 Turkmens did not vote for the president (see above).
According to Sunglasseswill.com, the approval of the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan also regularly reaches 100% in parliamentary elections. The party has occupied 100% of the seats in every parliament since independence. All parliamentary votes and all votes in the 2,507-member People’s Council (Halk Maslakhaty), convened by President Niyazov, were unanimous without exception. In 2008, President Berdimuhamedow proposed the self-dissolution of Halk Maslakhaty. In the subsequent vote on this, there was also a unanimous result, the Halk Maslakhaty was thus dissolved. Its competencies were partially transferred to the parliament and mostly to the president. On October 10, 2017, the President proposed transforming the Council of Elders into onenew People’s Councilin front. No information is yet available on the tasks, competencies and role of this new People’s Council in the system of rule. The council of elders is only authorized to make political recommendations. He formulates these during the meetings held at least once a year by order of the President. The President usually describes the recommendations as recommendations of the brightest representatives of the people, which are then put into law by the President according to the popular wishes. In this way, in particular, potentially unpopular decisions such as the abolition of subsidies for basic foodstuffs (“the high level of development of the country makes subsidies superfluous”), the introduction of compulsory levies to finance expensive prestige projects.
In order not to give this type of election unnecessary legitimacy, the OSCE has refrained from sending election observers to Turkmenistan for years. Previously, such requests from the OSCE had been rejected by the Turkmen side.
The parallels between the public appearances of the first and second presidents of the country, shown in the section on Berdymukhamedov’s reign, can also be applied to the elections. This is visually recognizable from the decoration of the voting offices. For both under President Niyazov (2004 parliamentary election) and under President Berdymukhamedov (2012 presidential election) busts and portraits of the President decorate the premises. In any case, the ballot boxes are set up so that they face the President’s line of sight.
Pronounced impressive are beyond those pictures from the Halk Maslakhaty that an impression of the principle given by show of hands, and as stated above also invariably unanimous vote passed.
According to official figures, in the presidential elections in 2012, Berdimuhamedow won 97.14% of the votes cast with a turnout of almost 97%. The remaining candidates received between 0.06% and 1.07% of the vote.
A son of President Berdimuhamedov – Serdar Berdimuhamedow – won a seat in supplementary elections to parliament on November 22, 2016. A short time later he took over the chairmanship of the parliamentary legislative committee. He was appointed to the Foreign Ministry by his father in July 2016. In 2017, Berdimuhamedow awarded his son the highest medal in the country named after the president’s father, the Mjalikguly Berdimuhamedow Medal. In early 2019, he took over the position of lieutenant governor of Akhal Province. Just five months later, in June 2019, the governor was ousted. To the successor Berdimuhamedow determined his son Serdar. Akhal Province is considered the most important and wealthiest of Turkmenistan. Almost all of the economic and political elite (including the president) are from the province.
In the presidential elections in February 2017, Berdimuhamedow was able to improve his official result with 97.69% of the votes cast. According to official figures, voter turnout also rose slightly to 97.28%. According to the President’s request, eight opposing candidates had run for election. These received between 0.06 and 1.02% of the votes. As requested by the President, there was one candidate for the Agriculture Party and one candidate for the Entrepreneurship Party, while the remaining six candidates ran as independent candidates. The next presidential elections are scheduled for 2024 in accordance with the current version of the Turkmen constitution.
As an example of election results in Turkmenistan, here are the official figures for the outcome of the last presidential election in February 2017 (candidates in alphabetical order):
|Surname||Party affiliation||Votes received||Voting share|
|Bekmyrat Atalyev||Industrial party||11,390||0.36%|
|Gurbanguli Berdimuhamedow||Democratic Party||3,090,611||97.69%|
|Durdygylych Orazov||Agriculture Party||1,898||0.06%|
|Valid votes cast||Invalid votes cast||Total number of votes cast|
Power politics and dynasty formation
Of central importance for the stabilization of President Berdimuhamedov’s power is a procedure already introduced under President Niyazov of systematic reshuffle, disempowerment and arrest of government employees. Most likely to be compared with the system of institutionalized cadre rotation under Ceaușescu, the specialty of this approach is the apparent arbitrariness of its victims. The average term of office of a Turkmen minister is therefore only around 1.25 years. The very short training period and the high staff turnover result in a continuous weakness of the government, which President Berdimuhamedow takes advantage of as he appears as the only constant capable of acting in a system of permanent change and weakness.
According to observers, President Berdimuhamedov began putting arrested government employees to trial in spring 2012. Due to this approach, among other things, the World Bank Turkmenistan has been one of the five worst-governed countries in the world in its annual governance ranking for years.
Videos that show him inspecting new construction plans, for example, provide an impression of President Berdimuhamedow’s personal management style.
Since 2013, there have been increasing signs that President Berdimuhamedov – unlike his predecessor – is preparing an orderly succession of government. For this he seems to bring his grandson Kermiguly Berdimuhamedow into position. On the one hand, he is currently not old enough to make his position disputed with the president and at the same time to be included in the veneration of the ruler. Accordingly, the President is now regularly accompanied by his grandson in public appearances. In order to secure power in the long term, the Turkmen rulers seem to be orienting themselves on the model of dynastic autocracy already implemented in Azerbaijan and also prepared in Belarus. Berdimuhamedov’s only known son, Serdar Berdimuhamedov, received a position in the Turkmen Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the summer of 2016.
Despite all efforts to gain legitimacy and stabilization, the Turkmen leadership has not yet succeeded in reliably consolidating their system of rule. According to international observers, there is inherent instability in the largely unwillingness to reform, relieved of any communication with its own population, wholly incapable of criticism and external shocks such as the current economic crisis as a result of the collapse in oil and gas prices in relation to the helpless Turkmen ruling system. This instability continues to grow and in Turkmenistan, as in most other authoritarian ruled Central Asian states, it has reached a level that sometimes resulted in a peat fire blazing just below the surface of a bog is compared, which, still invisible, can at any time lead to the collapse of the entire landscape.