Turkmen Elections: Just Another Undemocratic Transition

To follow up on yesterday’s posting on Uzbekistan

Want to learn about a country that actually may beat out North Korea as non-democratic?  Here is a student guest post on Turkmenistan’s recent elections.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, democratic transition in Turkmenistan has been an utter failure. In 2008 President Berdymukhammedov extended an invitation to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor the parliamentary elections in an attempt to finally open Turkmenistan to the West and increase democratic practices after Turkmenbashi’s authoritarian rule. Rather than a full monitoring mission, a Needs Assessment Mission was sent and concluded that that the elections were far from democratic with the lack of political competition, and because there is no distinction between government rule and civil society.  The report however was hopeful in that amendments to the Constitution and objective to improve elections would lead to more democratic elections in the future.

Members of the now defunct Halk Maslakhaty attending the ceremony to swear in Berdymukhamedov as president.

Also in 2008, President Berdymukhammedov dissolved Turkmenistan’s lower house, the Halk Maslahaty (People’s Council) and dispersed its powers to the Mejilis (National Assembly) and to the president. The transition to a unicameral parliament occurred after the People’s Council voted, without debate, to approve a new constitution thus dissolving itself, as a result of Berdymukhammedov’s effort to remove Turkmenbashi’s loyalists. The Mejilis now consists of 125 members, increased from 50 members, from 125 single member constituencies elected through a single-member plurality system or “first past the post” system.

Despite the voting system on paper, an average Turkmen voter has no real influence over politics because of the government’s strict control of the system. The Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (DPT) is the sole registered party in the country, and the President must pre-approve all representatives of the Mejilis; thus the parliament consists entirely of DPT party members. The DPT is the party of Turkmenbashi and Berdymukhammedov, and fully supports all of the president’s policies.

Further, the government controls any form of potential civil society as Berdymukhammedov acts as leader of the Revival Movement, “Galkynysh,” and leader of the DPT. The Revival Movement attempts coordination between the DPT and “public associations” such as the Trade Unions, Women’s Union, Youth Union, and Veteran Union. The issue is, DPT members largely make up the membership of the Unions; therefore rendering them an extension of the government rather than a separate civil society to challenge the President.

As if the uncompetitive electoral process does not make Turkmenistan undemocratic, the Mejilis, does not hold any independent power from the President. The legislature simply acts as a “rubber- stamp” to approve any policy the President wants.  Deviation from the President’s wishes is highly unlikely since each member’s future political career rests on approval from the President. The strict control that the President has over the Mejilis further eliminates democratic practices in the country.

Overall, the electoral process of Turkmenistan is highly rigged and hidden by the government. The OSCE reported in 2008 that aspects such as the absence of voting hours, handling of ballot papers, and provisions on the vote and count are entirely under-regulated. This under-regulation means that outside sources do not have information about how the process is handled to even point out the specific mechanisms of rigging the vote.

Contrary to the 2008 hopeful OSCE report, Berdymukhammedov’s democratic reforms and opening to political opposition have not occurred, leading the OSCE to shun the 2012 presidential election. They decided that it was unnecessary to deploy an election observation mission because pre-election preparations were already constructed with deceit and corruption. Refusal to monitor these elections indicates that the OSCE denies that President Berdymukhammedov’s re-election was democratic.

Is corruption and deceit so far embedded in Turkmenistan politics to ever allow for a true democratic transition, or will President Berdymukhammedov eventually follow through on his promises for democratic reform?


 European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity. (n.d.). Turkmenistan. Retrieved February 27, 2013, from European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity: http://www.europeanforum.net/country/turkmenistan

Freedom House . (2012). Turkmenistan. Retrieved February 27, 2013, from Freedom House: http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2012/turkmenistan

IPU. (2010, January 27). Turkmenistan Mejilis (Assembly) . Retrieved February 27, 2013, from Inter-Parliamentary Union : http://www.ipu.org/parline/reports/2325.htm

News Briefing Central Asia . (2012, January 9). OSCE Shuns Turkmen Election. Retrieved February 27, 2013, from Institute for War and Peace Reporting : http://iwpr.net/report-news/osce-shuns-turkmen-election

OSCE. (n.d.). Early Parliamentary Elections, 14 December 2008. Retrieved February 27, 2013, from Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe: http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/turkmenistan/early_parliamentary_2008

OSCE/ODIHR. Needs Aassessment Mission Report. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Warsaw.

Pannier, B. (2008, December 13). Turkmen parliamentary elections offer new twists on same old story. Retrieved February 13, 2013, from Radio Free Europe : http://www.rferl.org/content/Turkmen_Parliamentary_Elections_Offer_New_Twists_On_Same_Old_Story/1359414.html

Radio Free Europe. (2012, January 5). OSCE will not monitor Turkmen presidential election. Retrieved February 27, 2013, from Radio Free Europe: http://www.rferl.org/content/osce_wont_monitor_turkmen_election/24443331.html


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