Staunton, April 1 – Something remarkable has occurred in Turkmenistan: opposition groups have distributed leaflets calling for President Gunbaguly Berdymukhamedow to resign after the latter had himself elected naturally with 100 percent support to the parliament, thus violating the constitution that he wrote and imposed on the country.
That the dictator should ignore laws and the constitution he drew up is perhaps not surprising in the most dictatorial and closed country in the former Soviet space, but what is striking is that his action this time has been sufficient to cause opposition activists to take to the streets in major cities and call for his departure from office.
The confluence of events took place last Sunday but is being reported only today. Viktoriya Panfilova, a journalist who covers the former Soviet space for Nezavisimaya gazeta, suggests both Berdymukhamedow’s actions and those of the opposition were completely unexpected (ng.ru/cis/2021-04-01/1_8118_turkmenistan.html).
In that tightly controlled country, it is somewhat surprising that activists from Turkmenistan’s Democratic Choice movement should risk arrest or worse by distributing appeals in Ashgabad, Turkmenabad, Mary and Bayramadi calling on the president to resign. It isn’t surprising that two of them, Didar Ashirov and Dovran Gydydzhov, were arrested.
But more surprising is Berdymukhamedow’s actions. Given his complete control of the situation, it is far from clear why he has chosen to violate the constitution by simultaneously serving in both the executive and the legislature, especially given that all of the parliament’s members are people he has carefully selected and can be counted on to do whatever he wants.
Serdar Aytakov, the Turkmenistan specialist in Moscow to whom most Russian journalists turn, tells Panfilova that there are several possible explanations which may be separate or even combined. The most obvious is that this is another case of the Turkmenistan president’s proclivity for “micromanagement.” He simply wants to control things more tightly.
Another possibility is that his latest move is part of his succession planning. The Constitution allows for former presidents to serve in the senate, and while he is jumping the gun in that regard, he could be laying the groundwork for his son, whom he has been grooming as successor, to assume a larger role in the government.
And yet another explanation may be that Berdymukhamedow is concerned about the implications of one provision of the Constitution he wrote. That document specifies that the upper house of the parliament in which he will now be a member represents all the regions of the country. He may not want anyone else to have the standing leading it could give.
But however that may be, Aytakov says, “this entire operation, the haste with which it has been carried out” – Berdymukhamedow wasn’t even listed as a candidate a week ago – the lack of careful planning, and the clear violation of the norms of the Constitution looks more than a little strange.”
And it puts Berdymukhamedow and his defenders in a difficult position. They have been much criticized for Ashgabat’s violation of human rights and their own constitution, most recently by the United States this week; and his actions will make it even more difficult for Turkmenistan’s government to defend itself against these charges (turkmen.news/lenta/turkmenistan-doklad-prava-cheloveka/).