Turkmenistan - Leadership

Niyazov is president, supreme commander of the armed forces, first secretary of the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (DPT, formerly the Turkmen Communist Party), head of the People's Council (Khalk Maslakhaty), and chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers and the National Security Council. He has created a "cult of personality" by awarding himself medals and titles, including the title of "Turkmenbashi," leader of all Turkmen. The national oath recited by officeholders and school children includes the phrase "[if] I betray…Turkmenbashi, may my breath stop." Niyazov has also formulated a Rukhname (spiritual book), which he envisages as dictating Turkmen national cultural and ethical standards.

President Niyazov rejects what he calls the "chaos and permissiveness" of multi-party democracy, favoring the collective "togetherness" of one-party rule. The DPT, like the TCP before it, is the only party allowed to operate. It is closely controlled by Niyazov. The DPT proclaims that it stands for the rule of law, a mixed economy, and a multi-party system, but it operates like the old Communist Party through cells in the workplace and elsewhere. The DPT reports that it has 60,000 members. Seeking to bring together most major cultural, religious, and public groups as a wider political bloc, in early 1994, Niyazov created a National Revival Movement, which he heads. Unregistered parties are tiny and have been severely repressed. Physician Pirkuli Tangrikuliyev announced that he wanted to create an opposition party and would run in the 1999 Mejlis election, but he was arrested and convicted of corruption.

The lack of democratization in Turkmenistan was accentuated during the 11 April 1998 election of 60 unpaid "people's representatives" to the Khalk Maslakhaty. Turnout was reported at 99.5%, though some of the candidates ran unchallenged and no real campaigning or political party contestation occurred. Elections to the Turkmen 50-seat legislature (Mejlis) were held on 12 December 1999. Niyazov rejected a role for parties, stating that partisanship could lead to clan rivalries. Instead, he directed that nominating groups choose "professional" candidates, and they dutifully selected two candidates per constituency to run. There was no discussion of political issues or problems during the campaign. Prior to the race, Niyazov stepped up his repression of political and religious dissidents. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) refused to send monitors, citing the government's control over the electoral process. Elections for the Khalk Maslakhaty were held ahead of schedule in April 2003. Turnout was cited at 89.3% and all of the candidates belonged to the DPT.

Niyazov was the target of an assassination attempt on 25 November 2002. Following the attack on his motorcade, his government began an intense investigation, and 61 individuals were arrested in connection with the plot. The Mejlis gave powers to the Supreme Court to administer "special punishment" to those found guilty. The Supreme Court may hand out life sentences to those convicted, with no possibility of amnesty, pardon, early release, or change of prison. The United States expressed concern over Turkmenistan's handling of the investigations, stating it could not condone actions that violate international practice, including torture and abuse of suspects.

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