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Politics of Turkmenistan

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The politics of Turkmenistan nominally takes place in the framework of a presidential republic, whereby the President of Turkmenistan is nominally both head of state and head of government. However, as of 21 January 2023 a "national leader" was appointed who chairs an independent People's Council (viz.) with authority to amend the constitution, and who exercises supreme political authority.[1][2][3] No true opposition parties are allowed; every registered political party supports the third and current President Serdar Berdimuhamedow.[4] The country is frequently described as a totalitarian state.[5]

Political background[edit]

After 69 years as part of the Soviet Union (including 67 years as a union republic), Turkmenistan declared its independence on 27 October 1991.

President for life Saparmurat Niyazov, a former bureaucrat of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, ruled Turkmenistan from 1985, when he became head of the Communist Party of the Turkmen SSR, until his death in 2006. He ruled with totalitarian control over the country after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. On 28 December 1999 the Mejlis (parliament) declared Niyazov President for Life. (The Mejlis itself had taken office only a week earlier in elections that included only candidates hand-picked by President Niyazov; no opposition candidates were allowed.)

Prior to 2008, the authorities permitted only a single political party, the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan. Political gatherings are illegal unless government sanctioned.

All citizens must carry internal passports, noting place of residence—a practice carried over from the Soviet era. Movement into and out of the country, as well as within its borders, is difficult. Turkmenistan is dominated by a pervasive cult of personality extolling the late president Niyazov as Türkmenbaşy ("Head Turkmen"), a title he assumed in 1993. His face adorned many everyday objects, from banknotes to bottles of vodka. The logo of Turkmen national television was his profile. The two books he wrote were mandatory reading in schools, and public servants were quizzed yearly about their knowledge of their contents. They were also common in shops and homes. Many institutions were named after Niyazov's mother. All watches and clocks made had to bear his portrait printed on the dial-face. A giant 15-meter (50 ft) tall gold-plated statue of Niyazov stood on a rotating pedestal in Ashgabat, so it would always face the sun and shine light onto the city.

A slogan popular in Turkmen propaganda was "Halk! Watan! Türkmenbaşy!" ("People! Motherland! Head of Turkmen!"). Niyazov renamed the days of the week after members of his family and wrote the new Turkmen national anthem/oath himself.

Foreign companies seeking to exploit Turkmenistan's vast natural gas resources cooperated with Niyazov since he also controlled access to the natural resources. His book, Ruhnama (or Rukhnama, 2001 and 2004), which was revered in Turkmenistan almost like a holy text, has been translated into 41 languages[6] as of 2008 and distributed for free among major international libraries.[7] Niyazov once proclaimed that anyone who reads this book three times will "become more intelligent, will recognise the divine being and will go straight to heaven".[8]

After Niyazov's death, Deputy Prime Minister Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow became acting president, and was elected president in his own right on 11 February 2007 in elections condemned by international observers as fraudulent. On 20 March, in a decision of significant symbolic weight in the ongoing rejection of Niyazov's personality cult, he abolished the power of the president to rename any landmarks, institutions, or cities.

After the death of Saparmurat Niyazov Turkmenistan's leadership made tentative moves to open up the country. Berdimuhamedow repealed some of Niyazov's most idiosyncratic policies, including banning opera and the circus for being "insufficiently Turkmen". In education, his government increased basic education from 9 years to 10 years, and restored higher education from two years to five. He has also increased contacts with the West, which is eager for access to the country's natural gas riches - but fears were mounting that the government would revert to Niyazov's draconian style of rule.

The constitution provides for freedom of the press, but the government does not practice it. The government effectively controls all media outlets. Only two newspapers, Adalat [tk] and Galkynyş [tk], both created by presidential decree, and two private internet news portals, Infoabad and Arzuw, are nominally independent. Cable television, which existed in the late 1980s, was shut down. Access to foreign media is impeded by internet blockage of roughly one third of the world's IP addresses and a ban on use of virtual private networks.[9]

Turkmen authorities restrict the activities of all but the officially recognized Russian Orthodox and Sunni Islam faiths. Religious congregations must register with the government, and individual parishes must have at least 500 members to register. Severe measures deal with religious sects that have not been able to establish official ties of state recognition, especially Baptists, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Hare Krishna, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Baháʼís. Practitioners of these sects have allegedly been harassed, imprisoned, and/or tortured, according to some[which?] foreign human-rights advocacy groups.

Corruption continues to be pervasive. Power is concentrated in the presidency; the judiciary is wholly subservient to the régime, with all judges appointed for five-year terms by the president without legislative review. Little has been done to prosecute corrupt officials. With regard to the legal profession, while law practice may be conducted in Turkmenistan in assorted ways (collegium of lawyers, lawyers' association, private practice, etc.),[10] there is no clear indication as to how certain demographic groups, such as women, have fared in the field.

The United Nations General Assembly recognized and supported Turkmenistan's "status of permanent neutrality" on 11 January 1996.[11]

New constitution of 2008[edit]

In September 2008, the People's Council unanimously passed a resolution adopting a new constitution. The latter resulted in the abolition of the council and a significant increase in the size of Parliament in December 2008. The constitution also enables the formation of multiple political parties. President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow has stated that "The new constitution corresponds to all international and democratic norms".[12][13]

National Leader appointed 2023[edit]

As of 21 January 2023, President Serdar Berdimuhamedow appointed his father and predecessor, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, chairperson of the reformed People's Council of Turkmenistan with the title "National Leader of the Turkmen People" (Turkmen: türkmen halkynyň Milli Lideri).[1][2][14][15] State media referred to the People's Council as the "supreme organ of government authority".[1] Outside observers consider that the presidency has been stripped of all real authority so that it can be transferred to the National Leader, who is now the genuine chief executive of government. One commentator stated that this makes Turkmenistan an "absolute monarchy."[3][16][17][18]

Freedom of association[edit]

Formally, according to the constitution, citizens of Turkmenistan have the right to set up political parties and other public associations, acting within the framework of the constitution and the laws, and public associations and groups of citizens have the right to nominate their candidates in accordance with the election law.[citation needed]

Current members of the Cabinet of Ministers[edit]

Leaders of Turkmenistan since 1924[edit]

Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic (1924–1991)[edit]

First secretaries of the Turkmen Communist Party[edit]

Chairmen of the Revolutionary Committee[edit]

Chairmen of the Central Executive Committee[edit]

Chairman of the Supreme Soviet[edit]

Chairmen of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet[edit]

Chairman of the Supreme Soviet[edit]


National Leader[edit]

List of heads of government of Turkmenistan (1925–1991)[edit]

Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic (1924–1991)[edit]

Chairmen of the Council of People's Commissars[edit]

Chairmen of the Council of Ministers[edit]

Under the 1992 constitution, the president is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. Niyazov added the post of chairman of the Supreme Soviet in January 1990, and was elected as the country's first president that October. He was the only candidate in Turkmenistan's first presidential elections in 1992. A 1994 plebiscite extended his term to 2002, and Parliament extended his term indefinitely in 1999.

After Niyazov's death, Deputy Prime Minister for Science and Health Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow took over, despite the fact that Öwezgeldi Ataýew, the Chairman of the Parliament of Turkmenistan, would be the next in line in the order of succession (allegedly because the prosecutor-general had initiated investigations against Ataýew). The president appoints the deputy chairmen of the cabinet of ministers.

A presidential election to replace Niyazov was held on 11 February 2007.

Legislative branch[edit]

As of January 2023, Turkmenistan's Parliament ("Assembly", Turkmen: Mejlis) is unicameral, with a 125-seat single chamber. The Assembly is popularly elected.


The 1992 constitution established two parliamentary bodies, a unicameral People's Council or Halk Maslahaty (supreme legislative body of up to 2,500 delegates, some of whom were elected by popular vote and some of whom were appointed; met at least yearly) and a unicameral Assembly or Mejlis (originally 50 seats, eventually expanded to 125, whose members are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms).

In late 2003 legislation was passed reducing the powers of the Mejlis and making the Halk Maslahaty the supreme legislative organ. The Halk Maslahaty could at that point legally dissolve the Mejlis, and the president was now able to participate in the Mejlis as its supreme leader. The Mejlis could no longer adopt or amend the constitution, or announce referendums or its elections. Since President Saparmurat Niyazov was both the "Chairman for Life" of the Halk Maslahaty and the supreme leader of the Mejlis, the 2003 law had the effect of making him the sole authority of both the executive and legislative branches of government.[19]

Following Niyazov's death, in 2008, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow introduced a new constitution under which the Halk Maslahaty was reformed into an "Elders Council" with no legislative authority, and nominal legislative authority reverted to a unicameral Mejlis.[20]

In October 2017, President Berdimuhamedow reorganized the Council of Elders into a new People's Council.[21] In September 2020 the Turkmenistan Parliament adopted a constitutional amendment creating an upper chamber and thus making the Parliament bicameral.[22] The People's Council became the upper chamber. Of its 56 members, 48 are indirectly elected and 8 are appointed by the president. Together with the previous unicameral parliamentary body, the 125-seat Mejlis, as the lower chamber, the Parliament is now called the National Council (Turkmen: Milli Geňeş).

Election to the upper chamber was held 28 March 2021.[23][24] Elections to the Mejlis were last held 25 March 2018.[25][26]

In January 2023 both chambers of parliament proposed to abolish the Halk Maslahaty as a legislative organ, to reform it as an independent representative body, and to place all legislative authority in a unicameral Assembly (Mejlis).[27][28][29][30] This proposal was adopted in a joint session of the National Council on 21 January 2023.[1][2]

De facto authority[edit]

Outside observers consider the Turkmen legislature to be a rubber stamp parliament.[25][26][31] The Turkmen legislature is described as under the "full control" of the president.[32]

Political parties and elections[edit]

Turkmenistan was until recently a one-party state wherein only the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (Türkmenistanyň Demokratik partiýasynyň) was legally allowed to contest elections. Other parties are now formally allowed to exist following the adoption of the new Constitution.[33]

There have been political parties and opposition groups in the past—a group named Agzybirlik (Unity) was banned in January 1990. Its members formed the Party for Democratic Development which was itself banned in 1991. This led a coalition for democratic reform named Gengesh (Conference).

The latest opposition party, the Republican Party of Turkmenistan (Türkmenistanyň Respublikan partiýasynyň), operates in exile. Since all opposition was banned within Turkmenistan, so it has been forced to form and operate from abroad.

Below is the list of parliamentary parties in Turkmenistan:

Name Abbr. Leader/Chairman Ideology Mejlis Political position
Democratic Party of Turkmenistan
Türkmenistanyň Demokratik Partiýasy
TDP Ata Serdarov Turkmen nationalism
Social conservatism
65 / 125
Big tent
Agrarian Party of Turkmenistan
Türkmenistanyň agrar partiýasy
TAP Rejep Bazarow Agrarianism
24 / 125
Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Turkmenistan
Türkmenistanyň Senagatçylar we Telekeçiler partiýasy
TSTP Saparmyrat Owganow Industrialism
18 / 125

Administrative divisions[edit]

Turkmenistan is divided into five provinces (Turkmen: welaýatlar, singular welaýat): Ahal Province, Balkan Province, Daşoguz Province, Lebap Province, and Mary Province. The capital city, Ashgabat, is a separate entity and though a city has the legal status of a province (Turkmen: welaýat hukukly) under the Turkmen constitution.

A list of administrative divisions as of 5 January 2018, can be seen on the OpenStreetMap wiki.[34]

Foreign policy[edit]

Foreign policy of Turkmenistan is based on the status of permanent positive neutrality recognized by the UN General Assembly Resolution on Permanent Neutrality of Turkmenistan on 12 December 1995.[35] Articles on Turkmenistan's foreign policy as a neutral state:

  • Regional Strategy of Ashgabat[36]
  • Neutral Factor of Turkmenistan[37]
  • The World Recognized Turkmenistan's Neutrality 9 Years Ago[38]

Domestic policy[edit]

Restrictions on communication[edit]

Despite the launch of Turkmenistan's first communication satelliteTürkmenÄlem 52°E / MonacoSAT—in April 2015, the Turkmen government banned all satellite dishes in Turkmenistan the same month. The statement issued by the government indicated that all existing satellite dishes would have to be removed or destroyed—despite the communications receiving antennas having been legally installed since 1995—in an effort by the government to fully block access of the population to many "hundreds of independent international media outlets" which are currently accessible in the country only through satellite dishes, including all leading international news channels in different languages. The main target of this campaign is Radio Azatlyk, the Turkmen-language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.[39]

Internet access is filtered and websites to which the government objects are blocked. Blocked websites include opposition news media, YouTube, many social media including Facebook, and encrypted communications applications. Use of virtual private networks to circumvent censorship is prohibited.[40][41][42]

International organization participation[edit]

Turkmenistan is affiliated to the CIS, EAPC, EBRD, ECE, ECO, ESCAP, FAO, IBRD, ICAO, ICRM, IDB, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, IMO, Intelsat (nonsignatory user), IOC, IOM (observer), ISO (correspondent), ITU, NAM, OIC, OPCW, OSCE, PFP, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UPU, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTO (observer)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Cоздан высший представительный орган народной власти – Халк Маслахаты Туркменистана (in Russian), Neytralny Turkmenistan, 22 January 2023, archived from the original on 3 February 2023, retrieved 22 January 2023
  2. ^ a b c Халк Маслахаты стал самостоятельным законодательным органом, а парламент однопалатным (in Russian), RFE/RL, 23 January 2023, archived from the original on 3 February 2023, retrieved 22 January 2023
  3. ^ a b Pannier, Bruce (27 January 2023), PANNIER: A very Turkmen coup, bne IntelliNews, archived from the original on 3 February 2023, retrieved 27 January 2023
  4. ^ "Turkmenistan: President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov is awarded the status of Arkadag – protector - Ferghana Information agency, Moscow". Enews.fergananews.com. Archived from the original on 1 August 2013. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  5. ^ Gore, Hayden (2007). "Totalitarianism: The Case of Turkmenistan" (PDF). Human Rights & Human Welfare (Human Rights in Russia and the Former Soviet Republics). Denver: Josef Korbel School of International Studies: 107–116. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 February 2020. Retrieved 29 June 2021.
  6. ^ Moring, Kirsikka (29 February 2008). "The deadly watchful eye of Turkmenistan's holy book". Helsingin Sanomat (INternational Edition - Foreign ed.). Helsinki. Archived from the original on 9 August 2014. Retrieved 29 April 2014. Companies are required to collaborate in the personality cult. This is why Ruhnama, "The Book of Souls" written by the now dead dictator Sarparmurat Nijazov, has to be translated into the language of the company's country of origin as a way of closing a deal. [...] The book praising the dictator has been translated into 41 different languages.
  7. ^ "Tagesspiegel-berlin.de". www.tagesspiegel-berlin.de. Archived from the original on 27 March 2022. Retrieved 22 May 2022.
  8. ^ https://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20060320/od_afp/turkmenistanliteraturepoliticsreligionoffbeat_060320121440;_ylt=AsRXhh7.6MyFPUb5Lk3xIDugOrgF;_ylu=X3oDMTA5aHJvMDdwBHNlYwN5bmNhdA-- [dead link]
  9. ^ В Туркменистане заблокировали треть существующих IP-адресов (in Russian), Turkmen.News, 10 October 2022, archived from the original on 3 February 2023, retrieved 22 January 2023
  10. ^ "Independence of the Legal Profession in Central Asia" (PDF). International Commission of Jurists. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 July 2019.
  11. ^ Resolutions Adopted by the General Assembly: Maintenance of International Security and Permanent Neutrality of Turkmenistan Archived 18 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine (pdf). United Nations General Assembly. 90th Plenary Meeting. 11 January 1996. (Dead Link)
  12. ^ "Turkmenistan takes reformist step" Archived 29 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine, BBC, 26 September 2008
  13. ^ "Eye on Image, Turkmenistan Overhauls Laws" Archived 22 July 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Reuters. The New York Times. 26 September 2008.
  14. ^ Указ Президента Туркменистана О Председателе Халк Маслахаты Туркменистана (in Russian), Туркменистан сегодня, 21 January 2023
  15. ^ "Türkmenistanyň Prezidentiniň PERMANY Türkmenistanyň Halk Maslahatynyň Başlygy hakynda" (in Turkmen). Türkmenistan Bu gün. 21 January 2023. Archived from the original on 3 February 2023. Retrieved 22 January 2023.
  16. ^ «Гурбангулы Бердымухамедов возвёл свою единоличную власть до уровня абсолютной монархии [Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow raised is individual authority to the level of absolute monarchy] (in Russian), RFE/RL, 25 January 2023, archived from the original on 3 February 2023, retrieved 27 January 2023
  17. ^ В Туркменистане начали повсеместно развешивать портреты Бердымухамедова-старшего (in Russian), RFE/RL, 24 January 2023, archived from the original on 27 January 2023, retrieved 27 January 2023
  18. ^ Turkmenistan: Nice Try, Son, Majlis, RFE/RL, 29 January 2023 podcast (streaming audio)
  19. ^ "CIA The World Factbook". Archived from the original on 10 January 2021. Retrieved 24 January 2021.
  20. ^ "Turkmenistan approves new constitution to increase president's powers". Pravda. 26 September 2008. Archived from the original on 29 July 2014. Retrieved 25 July 2014.
  21. ^ "Turkmenistan's Council of Elders To Be Transformed into People's Council". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 10 October 2017. Archived from the original on 9 June 2021. Retrieved 31 March 2021.
  22. ^ "President For Life? Turkmen Leader Signs Mysterious Constitutional Changes into Law". RFE/RL. 25 September 2020. Archived from the original on 25 September 2022. Retrieved 31 March 2021.
  23. ^ "Turkmen Voters Given Two Hours To Cast Ballots in Senate Election". RFE/RL. 28 March 2021. Archived from the original on 21 May 2021. Retrieved 31 March 2021.
  24. ^ "Туркменистан впервые в истории избрал верхнюю палату парламента" (in Russian). Deutsche Welle. 28 March 2021. Archived from the original on 23 May 2021. Retrieved 31 March 2021.
  25. ^ a b "Turkmenistan votes for a new 'rubber-stamp' parliament". bne IntelliNews. 26 March 2018. Archived from the original on 15 April 2021. Retrieved 31 March 2021.
  26. ^ a b Pannier, Bruce (22 March 2018). "Turkmen Elections Look Like Next Step Toward Dynasty". RFE/RL. Archived from the original on 15 April 2021. Retrieved 31 March 2021.
  27. ^ "Совместное Постановление Халк Маслахаты и Меджлиса Милли Генгеша Туркменистана" (in Russian). «Туркменистан: золотой век». 11 January 2023. Archived from the original on 3 February 2023. Retrieved 22 January 2023.
  28. ^ "Постановление Халк Маслахаты Милли Генгеша Туркменистана, О создании Конституционной комиссии по разработке и обобщению предложений в связи с внесением изменений и дополнений в Конституцию Туркменистана и утверждении её состава" (in Russian). «Туркменистан: золотой век». 11 January 2023. Archived from the original on 3 February 2023. Retrieved 22 January 2023.
  29. ^ "Указ Президента Туркменистана О проведении совместного заседания палат Милли Генгеша Туркменистана с участием представителей общественности" (in Russian). «Туркменистан: золотой век». 11 January 2023. Archived from the original on 3 February 2023. Retrieved 22 January 2023.
  30. ^ "Г.Бердымухамедов снова намерен изменить Конституцию, чтобы вернуть однопалатный парламент и Халк Маслахаты" (in Russian). Chronicles of Turkmenistan. 12 January 2023.
  31. ^ Clement, Victoria (21 October 2019). "Passing the baton in Turkmenistan". Atlantic Council. Archived from the original on 8 April 2021. Retrieved 31 March 2021.
  32. ^ Muhamedov, Rustam (5 May 2021). "Explaining the Evolution of Turkmenistan's Assembly Bodies". The Diplomat. Archived from the original on 6 May 2021. Retrieved 6 May 2021.
  33. ^ "Turkmenistan - Trade". Encyclopedia Britannica. Archived from the original on 6 October 2022. Retrieved 24 December 2020.
  34. ^ "List of administrative divisions of Turkmenistan", OpenStreetMap wiki
  35. ^ "UN General Assembly Resolution on Permanent Neutrality of Turkmenistan"
  36. ^ "Regional Strategy of Ashgabat"
  37. ^ "Neutral Factor of Turkmenistan"
  38. ^ "The World Recognized Turkmenistan's Neutrality 9 Years Ago"
  39. ^ Forrester, Chris (22 April 2015). "Satellite dishes banned in Turkmenistan". Advanced Television. Archived from the original on 23 April 2015. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  40. ^ Pannier, Bruce (19 September 2020). "Turkmenistan Increases Crackdown on Internet Access As Living Standards Continue Downward Spiral". RFE/RL. Archived from the original on 28 March 2021. Retrieved 31 March 2021.
  41. ^ "Turkmenistan: Internet welcome, or no VPNs allowed here". Eurasianet. 23 March 2021. Archived from the original on 24 March 2021. Retrieved 31 March 2021.
  42. ^ "Phone and internet in Turkmenistan". Caravanistan. Archived from the original on 19 April 2021. Retrieved 31 March 2021.

External links[edit]