Turkmenistan: Older and Wiser?

  • A gathering of Turkmen elders. (Photo: NBCentralAsia)

An assembly of elders who are supposed to advise Turkmenistan’s government holds its annual gathering on October 23.

No agenda has been published for the Council of Elders meeting, which this year is taking place in the Caspian port city of Turkmenbashi, but President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has taken charge of a committee that is filtering the ideas that will be placed before it.

One source in the capital Ashgabat said there were rumours the council would call for more powers for the president, while a local lawyer said the president’s father Myalikguly Berdymuhammedov might be slotted in as head of the council.

The elders are supposed to add gravitas and an element of informal ground-up democracy to Turkmenistan’s authoritarian political system, but no one really sees them as an independent body. In May 2011, for example, they gave their unanimous approval to the president’s plan for having more than one political party.

“The authorities use the elders to articulate their decisions and approve their policies,” a 67-year-old former participant from Tejen said.

He said elders were expected to agree with every proposal that was put to them. They also had to be “cheerful and neat, wear a full beard, to listen to and obey their leader’s commands, not to try to make speeches or ask questions, to applaud in unison and give loud praises to the president”.

At the end of council sessions, participants can expect to receive gifts and money.

This article was produced as part of News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

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