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Central Asia news

The future ruler of Turkmenistan is known

27.12.2006 11:18 msk

Vremya Novostei

Analytics Turkmenistan

Gurbankuly Berdymuhammedov will become the second president of Turkmenistan. Election of the president will take place on February 11, but the throne by traditions of the Soviet nomenclature is already reserved for the chairman of the commission for the funeral of the late President Saparmurat Niyazov. Berdymuhammedov, 49, former deputy premier and health care minister (who even looks like Niyazov two decades ago so that some were prepared to proclaim him the Turkmenbashi's illegitimate son), polled unanimous support of the Halk Maslakhaty or People's Council. All 2,507 delegates of the national legislature voted to nominate Berdymuhammedov for president, yesterday.

That's what makes it a foregone conclusion that unless the former health care minister develops any unexpected problems with health, he will come in first in the presidential race in February. No other would-be candidate suggested at the Halk Maslakhaty meeting yesterday polled massive support.

The Halk Maslakhaty meeting may be branded as triumph of Turkmen democracy and it is not an exaggeration. It was literally the first time in history when delegates representing the people were free to nominate candidates for president they themselves considered worthy. As a matter of fact, this freedom was somewhat restricted. Delegates were advised to nominate only two candidates from every region of the country and from the capital and thus keep the total number down to twelve. Only every second candidate became an actual candidate for president i.e. candidate for heir (it required "aye" from two thirds of the deputy corps). Acting president Berdymuhammedov was the only man to poll absolute majority.

That it couldn't be otherwise became clear when Berdymuhammedov was nominated by Onjik Musayev, leader of the only Turkmen party (Democratic Party). "Niyazov considered Berdymuhammedov his first assistant. Berdymuhammedov proved himself a seasoned administrator and politician, and it was Berdymuhammedov that the leader of the state inevitably put in charge of difficult matters," Musayev said. He proceeded then to remind the Halk Maslakhaty of the nominee's "determination" displayed in the wake of the Turkmenbashi's passing. It was a reference to Berdymuhammedov's words on the necessity "to pay salaries on time and make sure that the population has everything it needs" and Berdymuhammedov's call to the people "to maintain law and order."

The Halk Maslakhaty certainly lived up to the expectations. It amended the constitution and thus permitted acting presidents to run for president. The other amendment to the constitution adopted yesterday is no less important because it legalized Berdymuhammedov's presidential powers. When Niyazov passed away, chairman of the parliament Ovezgeldy Atayev was his "heir of line" but the Prosecutor General's Office proclaimed him a criminal that same day. This clumsiness of the law enforcement agencies that dawdled with the suspicions with regard to Atayev the Turkmenbashi himself had voiced did not exactly put the Turkmen authorities in the best light.

Turkmenistan is bracing for the election Berdymuhammedov has already promised to make "democratic". There is no reason to expect it to differ from the election of the president of Tajikistan in November. Five candidates were running for president then, but Emomali Rakhmonov's four rivals voted for him and urged their following to vote for Rakhmonov too. The Turkmen authorities are going to go by the book too.

As soon as Berdymuhammedov was nominated yesterday, Karryev of the Turkmen Central Election Commission said that "the election has all but taken place already" but added that "we should abide by the law and vote on February 11."

Closing the "crucial" 18th meeting of the Halk Maslakhaty, candidate for president Berdymuhammedov urged the people of the country to take an active part in the forthcoming election. News agencies report from Ashkhabad that this was how "the Turkmenbashi's first assistant" responded to the suggestions from delegates to make him the president right there and then.

Judging by what information is available, this scenario was seriously contemplated and Halk Maslakhaty delegates had been told to be ready. Organizers must have decided nevertheless to follow democratic procedures for the sake of the foreign diplomats accredited in Ashkhabad, the ones who were present at the Halk Maslakhaty meeting at the Ruhayet Palace. In the meantime, the Central Election Commission has already proclaimed that there will be no foreign observers at the forthcoming election.

The Turkmen opposition (Vatan and the Republican Party) nominated its own candidate for president. He is Vatan leader Hudoiberdy Orazov, 58, former deputy premier and Central Bank chairman, living in Sweden. Existence of a rival is not going to introduce any corrections into the Turkmen authorities' plans. The men who outlasted Niyazov will divide the pie they have finally laid their hands on all by themselves, and they are not going to let any strangers have a go at it. The new regime is not any easier on the population. No amnesty, for example, was proclaimed for the hundreds of political prisoners in Turkmen jails, and all of that merely confirms validity of the conclusion drawn above. Niyazov is gone, but not the regime. The country is still mourning its late leader. Still, the new regime will feel the need for recognition by the international community soon. To get it, Niyazov's heirs may find it necessary to forsake the principles bequeathed to them by "the diamond crown of the Turkmen people".

Arkady Dubnov

Vremya Novostei, December 27, 2006, pp. 1 - 2

© Translated by Ferghana.Ru