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Friday, September 28, 2012

Turkmenistan: Recent Developments and U.S. Interests

Jim Nichol
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs

When Turkmenistan gained independence with the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, the former republic’s president and head of the Turkmen Communist Party, Saparamurad Niyazov, retained power. He was reelected president in another uncontested race in 1992, and a referendum in 1994 extended his term until 2002. Before facing reelection, however, constitutional amendments approved in 1999 proclaimed him president for life. The country’s May 1992 constitution granted Niyazov overwhelming powers to rule by decree as head of state and government. According to several assessments, he was among the world’s most authoritarian rulers, and his regime was highly corrupt and responsible for serious human rights abuses.

Following the death of President Niyazov in December 2006, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow was elected president in early 2007. A new constitution approved in 2008 reaffirmed Turkmenistan as a “secular democracy” with a powerful president able to rule by decree. The constitution included an impressive list of individual rights, but emphasized that the exercise of rights must not violate public order or damage national security. An early legislative election was held in December 2008. International observers assessed the election as not free and fair. The next Mejlis election is scheduled for December 2013.According to some observers, the Berdimuhamedow government has retained many authoritarian features of the previous regime, and the human rights situation has deteriorated after an initial improvement at the time of the political succession.

In October 2011, the Turkmen Central Electoral Commission (CEC) announced that a presidential election would be held on February 12, 2012. During the last two weeks of December 2011, initiative groups nominated candidates for president and gathered 10,000 signatures in a majority of the country’s districts in order to gain registration of their candidates. The National Revival Movement, a civic association headed by the president, nominated President Berdimuhamedow as its candidate. In January 2012, the CEC registered eight candidates. All of Berdimuhamedow’s challengers were ministerial officials or state plant managers. Based on an inadequate legal and political framework to ensure a pluralistic election, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe decided not to formally monitor the election. The CEC announced that Berdimuhamedow won over 97% of the vote and that turnout was over 96%.

In Congressional testimony in late July 2012, Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake praised Turkmenistan for providing some humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and for constructing or planning rail and energy links to the country, including the prospective Turkmenistan- Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline. He stated that such projects illustrate that Turkmenistan has the potential to be a leader in regional economic development. At the same time, he cautioned that to reach this potential, Turkmenistan must address its human rights problems. He reported that the United States would continue to offer assistance to help Turkmenistan democratize and respect human rights.

Cumulative U.S. assistance to Turkmenistan has amounted to $351.55 million over the period FY1992-FY2010 (all agencies and programs). U.S. foreign assistance amounted to $11.01 million in FY2011 and an estimated $9.89 million in FY2012. The Administration has requested $6.73 million for FY2013 (these latter amounts include “Function 150” foreign assistance programs and exclude Defense and Energy Department funding).

Date of Report: August 17, 2012
Number of Pages: 16
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