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President Strengthens his Position

By News Briefing Central Asia
President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov has been elected as head of the Halk Maslahaty, Turkmenistan’s highest legislative body. NBCentralAsia observers say the move has dampened expectations that the new Turkmen leadership will introduce liberal reforms.

Some 2,500 delegates from all branches of power including the governing Democratic Party, public organisations and elders from across the country, unanimously elected President Berdymuhammedov as head of the Halk Maskahaty or People’s Council when it met in Ashgabat on March 30.

Berdymuhammedov was the only candidate.

The position was previously occupied by the previous president, Saparmurat Niazov, and has remained vacant since his sudden death in December 2006.

There was some conjecture that someone other than the president would take on the role, allowing Halk Maslahaty to assume greater independence.

Tajigul Begmedova, head of the Turkmen Helsinki Fund, an émigré group based in Bulgaria, told NBCentralAsia that people inside the country had expected someone else to take on the job and use it to “encourage the president to carry out democratic change”.

Begmedova said people were also disappointed that an amnesty for those detained in prison under Niazov’s rule was not announced during the Halk Maslahaty meeting, contrary to expectations.

Other commentators interviewed by NBCentralAsia say Berdymuhammedov’s appointment to the role lacked legitimacy, and carried the risk that he was going down the same road as his predecessor.

“All the laws in Turkmenistan passed over the last ten years have been designed to strengthen the position of whoever is in power at the moment, and that has led to ruin in the country,” said an Ashgabat-based journalist.

However, Vyacheslav Mamedov, leader of the émigré Civil Democratic Union, argued that the president’s control over the various branches of power was less significant than it seemed. The public reaction, he said, will depend on what reforms the government introduces.

“The image of the new authorities will be determined by [action on election] promises and the reforms they implement, not by the posts they occupy,” Mamedov said.

(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)

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