The election of the deputies of the National Assembly of Turkmenistan took place on Sunday 15th December. More than 90% of the Turkmen registered voters turned out to cast their votes in the first-ever multi-party election in the history of this post-Soviet country. The 125 members of the Parliament are elected for a 5-year term with majoritarian system in 125 single-mandate constituencies, each returning one deputy. In total, 283 candidates were competing for election. Candidates were regrouped in the Democratic Party, which has dominated the political scene of Turkmenistan since national independence in 1991, and in the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. Beyond these two main parties, “independent” candidates were also running for the Organization of Trade Unions, the Women’s Union and the Youth Organization of Turkmenistan. As reported by the national Central Electoral Commission, the pro-presidential Democratic Party won 47 of 125 seats, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs won 14, and independent candidates won 64. Human rights and advocacy groups highlighted that all parties running in the election are loyal to the incumbent president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, thus hardly represented a genuine political choice for voters.
Turkmenistan is a presidential republic, with executive powers exerted by the government, led by the president. The current government is led by the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, which until today was the only party sitting in the Parliament along with independent representatives nominated by public associations. However, the Turkmen Parliament passed a new law on political parties in January 2012, introducing a multi-party system which attracted some international credibility and praise. Subsequently the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, which Amnesty International described as a government’s ally rather than as a real contender to power, was established. Nevertheless, the new law is quite restrictive as it limits party membership to citizens permanently residing in Turkmenistan, requires that parties should have at least one thousand members, and prohibits parties to be formed on ethnic or religious grounds. Moreover, political parties are obliged to permit representatives of the Ministry of Justice to attend or take part in their activities, such as for example the party’s internal process of selection of candidates for elections.
Despite formally having a multi-party system, Turkmenistan’s credibility is questioned when it comes to its capability of engendering a genuine electoral and political competition. This is so not only because no political party seems to be willing to challenge Berdymukhamedov’s hegemony, but also because of the state monopoly over the media sector, where no private or independent media can be found, and the restricted access to civil liberties in the political sphere, which human rights groups describe as characterised by an “all-permeating fear”. Moreover, access to the Internet is very limited and state television remains the main source of information for the population.