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Nominations Start for Turkmen Election

As nominations get under way for the December parliamentary election in Turkmenistan, local commentators say the process is all too reminiscent of past polls. Few public meetings are being held to select candidates, and they are tightly controlled by the authorities so that the only nominees are regime loyalists.

On November 3, official media reported that “the active phase of the campaign to elect members of parliament has begun, and the names of the launched in Turkmenistan and the names of the first candidates to take up the mandate of popular confidence have been named”.

However, none of these names has been published in the press.

The December 14 election will take place according to the recently-amended constitution, in which the number of seats in parliament has almost doubled to reach 125.

State media have made much play of President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov’s declaration that only worthy, honest and committed individuals who enjoy the public’s confidence will win seats.

According to the official version, the electoral process will not only be entirely transparent, it will feature competing candidates.

The new constitution allows individuals to be nominated from legally registered political parties – of which there is only one, the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan – as well as by non-government organisations and assemblies of voters. The only NGOs that are officially allowed to operate are government-funded entities like the Makhtumkuli Youth Organisation, the war and labour veterans’ movement, the national women’s union and the Council of Trade Unions.

Thus, while the legislation theoretically guarantees the right to a choice of candidates, and Berdymuhammedov is trying to convince the international community that the process is truly democratic, NBCentralAsia observers do not expect to see any real challenge to the regime emerging. Instead, they say, the authorities will manage the whole electoral process.

An official from the city council in the capital Ashgabat, capital of Turkmenistan, refused to comment on the process to NBCentralAsia. “Come along to the election on December 14 and find everything out there,” he said.

A journalist working for Turkmenistan, a state newspaper, said that not even the officially-sanctioned NGOs would risk nominating candidates as that would be “suicide”.

“The government would undoubtedly do everything it could to complicate things for the nominating group and prevent an unforeseen and un-vetted candidate slipping through into parliament,” said the journalist.

An anonymous source working for the government confirmed that this was the case, noting that long before the election campaign got under way, all the potential candidates were identified and underwent screening for security and loyalty.

Now these candidates have been handed over to the official NGOs, which will duly present them as their own.

“The candidates include party activists, members of the intelligentsia favoured by the authorities, mid-level officials and enterprise managers – people who are obedient in every way,” said the source.

Other analysts say that nomination takes place at closed meetings that are stage-managed by local government and the security service. Civil servants, community elders and students studying in the areas are required to turn up at these events to create a semblance of voter activity. Some of them are instructed to ask the candidates pre-assigned questions, and the answers are also set out in advance.

“The people sitting in the hall wouldn’t even think of taking the initiative and asking an unauthorised question or criticising the candidate,” said an analyst in the Dashoguz region in the north of the country. “That could turn out to have been a bad move later on.”

The nomination process ends on November 14.

(NBCentralAsia is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service resumed in 2008, covering Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.)