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Central Asia news

Two deputy premiers transferred from jail to house arrest on the eve of the election

09.02.2007 14:25 msk

Vremya Novostei

Politics Turkmenistan

Turkmen voters will be electing their president the day after tomorrow. Nothing extraordinary is required or expected from them. They only have to visit their respective polling stations and underline the name of Gurbankuly Berdymuhammedov in voting bulletins. (Berdymuhammedov is the man who has been acting president ever since the demise of Saparmurat Turkmenbashi the Great on December 21, 2006.) The election is officially proclaimed as democratic, meaning that the future president will poll less than 100%. Discounting Berdymuhammedov, five others run for president, and some of the votes will have to be given each of them.

No foreign observers are expected in Turkmenistan which means that nobody will appraise the election in this country in the official capacity. (From this standpoint, Turkmenistan is certainly different from its neighbors whose authorities were accused of the failure to meet democratic standards.) All the same, some OSCE observers are already in Turkmenistan on a purely technical mission. They are expected to get acquainted with the Turkmen legislation pertaining elections and see it in action.

Ashkhabad and Vienna (the site of OSCE headquarters) are quite content and pleased with reach other. The Turkmen authorities can forget about accusations. The Europeans in their turn are given a rare opportunity to get first-hand knowledge of the situation in the country which late president Niyazov made a terra incognita for foreigners. This is essentially all in terms of differences between the forthcoming election in Turkmenistan and elections elsewhere. Candidates for president tour the country vying for voters' sympathies. Voters in the meantime have already grasped the essentials of candidates' programs. One of the them promises people something unprecedented - trips abroad, chance to get education there, and access to the Internet. Unlike this quite specific and to the point program, all others are vague. These latter concentrate on petty shortcomings and essentially boil down to old maxims (of the better-wealthy-and-healthy-than-poor-and-sick kind). No need to point out that the former program belongs to Berdymuhammedov and the rest to the also-runs. It will help Turkmen voters make the correct choice.

Turkmenistan and foreign countries are already waiting to see what the first steps of the new leadership will be like. Very many optimists count on a "thaw". Turkmen families (great many of them) are waiting for the return of their husbands and fathers from jails. Well-informed and trustworthy sources in Ashkhabad say that former deputy premiers Yelly Kurbanmuradov and Dortkuli Aidogayev, each sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, were already transferred from jails and placed under house arrest. Kurbanmuradov ran the oil and gas sector once, Aidogayev was in charge of light industry. There are the rumors that some others will be released soon too. Once Berdymuhammedov is sworn in, these former senior officials of the Turkmen state may be amnestied and restored to positions of power.

The new authorities need these people back because Niyazov's regular purges robbed Turkmen nomenclature of vitality. "Bench-warmers" at the highest and medium administrative level became such a rarity in Turkmenistan that Niyazov was compelled to return from exile in God-forsaken places the officials he himself had sent there for some wrong - real or imagined.

There are other indications of the forthcoming changes as well. Non-Turkmen specialists are returning to some ministries and departments (education, oil and gas). Indigenous staff for national structures was Niyazov's motto in the last years of his life.

Turkmen schools expect new curricula. The new authorities have already ordered more extensive studies of foreign languages and reinstitution of physical education. Studies of Niyazov's Ruhnama, however, will remain on the curricula. Dropping it will signify abandonment of the Turkmenbashi's ideology.

Berdymuhammedov and his team have yet to solve the principal problem, that of taking over Niyazov's bank accounts. Sources report that Niyazov's son Murat who stayed in Ashkhabad until the 40th day funeral feast spent the time dividing the heirloom with successors. There are reasons to believe that shortly before his demise the Turkmenbashi put Murat partially in charge of the old accounts with Western banks and the current ones, the bank accounts where gas export revenues are accumulated. And if Murat does not want to succeed to his late father (and he doesn't as is now plain), he will have certainly demanded an "indemnity". Its size is the only question. That and how long persuading him to take less will take.

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Arkady Dubnov

Vremya Novostei, February 9, 2007, p. 5

© Translated by Ferghana.Ru