This January, Turkmenistan reelected as its president the incumbent Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, leader of one of the world’s most oppressive states. Berdymukhamedov faced opposition from seven candidates but still received 97% of the popular vote. The opposition candidates, for reasons not made entirely clear, even went so far as to praise opponent Berdymukhamedov in their campaigns, and many pundits have pointed out that the election was just a formality. A news anchor on state-run television, however, is quoted as believing otherwise, saying “[the elections are] the clearest evidence of the irreversibility of the democratic process … Aware of their great responsibility for the future of the motherland, the people will choose the most worthy of the eight candidates.”
Turkmenistan, one of the world’s most repressive regimes, has been led by two eccentric heads of state in recent years, each of whom has fostered a large personality cult. Mr. Berdymukhamedov ascended to the presidency after the death of his predecessor, Saparmurat Nizayov, who constructed statues of himself across Turkmenistan, had months named after family members (including himself), and wrote a book on Turkmen history that is required reading in the country’s schools. President Berdymukhamedov appears to be taking a leaf from Mr. Nizayov’s book: he has already begun to write, and has constructed a monumental marble-faced resort along Turkmenistan’s Caspian Sea coastline.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, denouncing Turkmenistan’s repressive tendencies, declined to send monitors to its election. Meanwhile, human rights activists criticize the EU for its willingness to purchase Turkmen natural gas. Although the general trend in many countries is toward democracy, it may take a while to reach Turkmenistan.
“Berdymukhamedov wins Turkmenistan election in landslide.” BBC News Asia. BBC, 2012. Web. 27 Feb. 2012. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-17009053>.
East, Chip. “Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov addresses the Millennium Development Goals Summit at UN Headquarters in New York, September 20. The Turkmen president recently called for domestic reform.” Photograph. Central Asia Online. Central Asia Online, 2011. Web. 27 Feb. 2012. <http://centralasiaonline.com/en_GB/articles/caii/features/main/2011/02/16/feature-01>
For a different view of President Berdymukhamedov:
Study Questions (just in case):
1. Who is currently president of Turkmenistan?
2. Was the election this year free of corruption?
3. Why do you think Turkmenistan has had two similar leaders of this type in recent years?