Turkmenistan - Domestic policy



The 1992 Constitution created a People's Council (Khalk Maslakhaty) with mixed executive and legislative powers, consisting of the president, ministers, the 50 legislators of the Supreme Council (Mejlis), 60 "people's representatives," and others. The people's representatives were elected by district in a virtually uncontested vote in December 1992. The Khalk Maslakhaty serves as a forum and rubber stamp for the president's policy initiatives. Resurrecting pre-Soviet customs, a Council of Elders, hand-picked by Niyazov, was also created to advise the president and choose presidential candidates. Oppositionists complained that both these bodies were designed to stifle dissent. A new Mejlis of 50 members was elected in December 1994. The candidates were all nominated by Niyazov, ran unopposed, and most were members of his DPT. The Mejlis routinely supports presidential decrees and has little legislative initiative. The court system retains its basic Soviet-era structure and functions. The president appoints all judges for five-year terms without legislative consent, except for the Chairman of the Supreme Court, and removes them by decree.

Niyazov has vowed to move slowly on reforms, and has tried to maintain some subsidies for food, water, and other necessities to placate the population. In December 1999, he stated that the economic and political transformation of Turkmenistan would not be completed until 2011. In April 2000, he rejected proposals to step up market reforms and allow political pluralism, averring that "the Turkmen people, given their mentality inherited from their forefathers, will not accept such things….we have honesty, purity, and accord inour blood." He has, however, directed some legal reforms he claims increase human rights, such as abolishing the death penalty and holding yearly amnesties. He has also hailed a law he initiated to permit exile instead of a jail term. In May 2000 he called for representatives of elders' councils, members of the People's Council, and local administration heads to become responsible for endorsing arrest documents and monitoring the actions of prosecutors. Critics have objected that such a change would place criminal justice even more tightly under Niyazov's control.

In March and April 2003, Niyazov placed restrictions on foreigners and residents holding dual citizenship in Turkmenistan. He stated every foreigner entering, departing from, or staying in Turkmenistan should be registered by the State Border Service, and that information on the identity, age, and travel destinations of all visitors would be recorded. As well, on 22 April, Niyazov signed a decree giving residents of Turkmenistan who hold dual citizenship two months to decide which one they would like to keep. The decree followed a 10 April agreement between Niyazov and Russian President Vladimir Putin revoking the right to dual citizenship instituted in 1993. If residents do not choose which citizenship they would like to retain, they will be considered Turkmen citizens. Over 100,000 people living in Turkmenistan held dual citizenship in April 2003. By the end of April, hundreds of people holding dual Turkmen-Russian citizenship were gathered on the Uzbek-Turkmen border in an attempt to leave Turkmenistan using their Russian passports as exit visas, but Turkmen border guards were not allowing them to leave. Holders of Russian passports were required by Niyazov's decree to show difficult-to-obtain exit visas before they could buy plane tickets to leave the country. The residents trying to gain access to Uzbekistan were hoping they would be able to take trains from there to Russia, as trains from Uzbekistan to Russia were then not stopping in Turkmenistan, even though the rail line from Uzbekistan to Russia passes through Turkmenistan.

In March 2003, the official state statistics on the economy were released, and the government claimed a 19.3% rise in GDP from 2002–03. Industry, public services, and agriculture were listed as among the major contributors to the growth in GDP. Also, transportation and communication sectors were also listed as performing well. Foreign trade equalled US $517 million according to the statistics and exports exceeded imports by US $115 million. Turkmenistan lists 56 countries as foreign trade partners.

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