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Presidential Elections In Turkmenistan: Looking From A Different Angle – OpEd

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By Tariq Saeedi

The presidential elections in Turkmenistan will take place in less than 10 days from now.

Observers and analysts have raised several objections on the whole process:

  • All the seven candidates running against President Berdymuhamedov are weak and obscure
  • There is no opposition candidate
  • The election manifesto of all candidates looks like a weak carbon copy of Berdymuhamedov’s manifesto
  • These are sham elections; just a way for the sitting administration to stay in power

Superficially, these look like justifiable objections. Let’s examine them one by one.

Weak and obscure candidates

Two of the candidates against Berdymuhamedov are serving ministers, two are deputy governors of regions and two are heads of major industrial enterprises.

Because of their official positions, their names have been appearing off and on in the print and electronic media. In a system that is still struggling to get rid of its communist legacy, these candidates are not exactly obscure.

As far as their being weak is concerned, it is a relative term and cannot be applied wholesale. Weak against what? strong in what sense?

What is the sign of a strong candidate? Should he promise to break the whole system apart without knowing or caring for the consequences; without any plans to build something better in its place?

No opposition candidates

When talking of opposition candidate, we must first identify them. Is there any real opposition leader inside or outside the country?

Except for one possible exception, all of the names that are thrown around as opposition leaders are the persons with proven embezzlement cases against them. After fleeing the country with millions of dollars, they suddenly discovered, with helpful prodding by Russia and the west, that they were opposition leaders. This is not how authentic democracy works in real life environment.

Then, there is the matter of following the legal channels. Now matter how cumbersome and obstructive, there is a system in Turkmenistan for getting registered as presidential candidate. Admittedly, the law ‘On presidential elections’ is designed to keep unwanted candidates away.

However, this law has been around for quite a few years now. There was ample time for any opposition candidates to attempt to break into the system. Had they made high profile attempts to enter the presidential race, long before the elections were announced, one would have considered them as genuine candidates denied a chance. For instance:

  • They could have moved the courts to reconsider the cases against them. Their requests would most probably have been turned down but they would have had on record their desire to seek justice.
  • In their endless media appearances outside the country, they could have voiced some solid ideas on what they would do for the country and the people. Instead, they squandered all the opportunities in merely badmouthing the sitting government.
  • They could have started or sponsored some media outlets with positive attitude instead of getting piggy ride on the biased and slanderous websites.
  • They could have demonstrated in any way whatsoever that they have genuine concerns for the people instead of scheming with the western players for sabotaging and toppling the sitting regime.

Also, there is the undeniable code that as soon as a media outlet starts receiving funding from an interested country, organization or individual, it ceases to be an independent media. This is fully applicable to politicians and pseudo-politicians: The moment they receive funding from a foreign country, organization or individual, they forego the right to speak for their people.

Election manifesto

It is absurd to make an issue of similarity of manifestos of presidential candidates in Turkmenistan.

As Obama said before being elected, he will keep what is working and replace what is not.

There is no reason why this simple logic should not be applied to Turkmenistan: There all the indications that the economy is growing, industrial base is expanding, benefits are trickling down to the people and the country is playing an increasingly useful role at the regional and global level. Why should there be any desire to tinker with this?

Sham elections

If we accept the indictment that these are sham elections, merely a ploy by the government to remain in power, is this an absolute inevitability?

What is there for the voters to prevent them from stamping on any name on the ballot paper once they are behind the curtain in the polling booth?

If the people are really, totally fed up with the present government, will they not put their stamp on any other candidate’s name except for Berdymuhamedov just to show their disgust?

Even if the whole process is a sham, the final 30 seconds of this process, when a voter is alone in the booth, are not a sham.

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