ISSN 2330-717X

Reality Check: Opposition Participation In Turkmenistan Presidential Elections – OpEd

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President Berdymuhamedov of Turkmenistan announced on 8 July during a meeting of the cabinet of ministers that he would welcome the participation of the ‘opposition’ candidates in the forthcoming presidential elections, scheduled for early 2012. He also said that Turkmenistan will switch to two-party system.

This is a bold statement and for this to happen there would be the need to amend the Constitution of Turkmenistan, and the law of Turkmenistan ‘About the Presidential Elections.’

Also, if the candidates happen to be the persons against whom legal cases are pending in a court of law, or they have been sentenced in absentia, such cases would need to be withdrawn and/or the court decisions overturned before they can take part in the elections.

In this report we are presenting the relevant extracts from the speech of President Berdymuhamedov, the applicable passages from the Constitution of Turkmenistan and the law of Turkmenistan ‘About Presidential Elections’ to illustrate that there are numerous legal and procedural hurdles in the way of allowing certain persons to take part in the presidential elections. These quotes would also illustrate the difficulties facing an independent candidate to enter the presidential race. In our own commentary at the end of this report we shall look at some obvious aspects of this issue.

Here is the quote from the speech of Berdymuhamedov:

“We have formed a legal framework that allows for development of multiparty system. However, in this respect, we shall not rush out and create some artificial parties.

“We don’t deem it necessary to go for proliferation of parties. I think, the emergence of effective competition and establishment of real connection between the people and the government can be achieved by two [political] parties, who would enjoy the support and respect of the masses. [Note: It means that in addition to the present Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, one more political party would be created or allowed to get established before the elections. Ed.]

“These parties must have a specific programme aimed at improving the well being of the people. And, if a certain group of citizens wishes to establish their own party which can serve the people, no one would oppose the registration and operation of such a party, as I have mentioned repeatedly in my speeches.

“We are ready for dialogue with the groups that call themselves “opposition.” If any of their representatives wishes to participate in the upcoming presidential elections, he can safely travel to Turkmenistan. I guarantee for them, as for other citizens of our country, equal conditions and opportunities for participation in the elections.”

Here are the relevant passages from the law of Turkmenistan ‘About Presidential Elections’:

CHAPTER V. NOMINATION AND REGISTRATION OF CANDIDATES

Article 27: The procedure for nomination of candidates

1. In accordance with the Constitution of Turkmenistan, the right to nominate candidates for President of Turkmenistan belongs to political parties, public associations and citizens’ groups.

2. A citizen of Turkmenistan may be nominated as Candidate for President of Turkmenistan, who was born in Turkmenistan, is at least forty years old and no older than seventy years, who knows the state language, within the past fifteen years has been residing in Turkmenistan and working in state bodies, public associations, enterprises, institutions and organizations.

A person with a criminal record, which at the time of the nomination has not been canceled or not removed, can not be nominated for President of Turkmenistan.

3. Nomination of candidates for President of Turkmenistan starts sixty days before and ends thirty days before the election.

Article 29: Nomination of candidates for President of Turkmenistan by the citizens

1. In case of nomination of a candidate for presidential elections by the citizens of Turkmenistan, he must be supported by not less than ten thousand signatures. At the same time the share of each district and town with the status of district should not be less than 300 signatures.

2. The collection of signatures is organized by a group nominating the candidate for President of Turkmenistan.

The initiative group should have at least fifty of Turkmen citizens eligible to vote.

3. The Central Election Commission no later than three days from the date of application for registration of the initiative group, signed by its head and members, including their name, surname, patronymic, date of birth, place of residence, as well as the location of the group, registers this group in records and issues each member with an appropriate license.

4. Signatures may be collected only from the citizens of Turkmenistan that have the right to vote. Collecting of signatures can be carried out on the job, service, study place, place of residence, at campaign events, as well as in other places where the petitioning is not prohibited by this law.

Participation of the administration of legal entities or their subsidiaries and representative offices in the collection of signatures, as well as coercion in the process of signature collection and payment of rewards to voters for putting the signatures or obstruction of collecting signatures is not permissible. Flagrant or repeated violation of these prohibitions is the basis for the recognition by the Central Election Commission or the court for the collected signatures being declared invalid, and/or the refusal to register a candidate for President of Turkmenistan.

5. The right to collect signatures belongs to the members of the initiative group that shall nominate a candidate for President of Turkmenistan.

6. Each signature sheet in support of a candidate for President of Turkmenistan must specify the last name, first name, date of birth, place of employment, position (occupation) of the candidate.

7. The voters, writing in the signature sheet indicate the following information: their full name and patronymic, place of residence, date of birth (at the age of eighteen years – the day and month of birth), date of signature. A voter may sign for only one candidate.

8. Each mailing list should include information that the person collecting signatures and personal data is reliable and should list the last name, and first name of the person collecting signatures, passport or equivalent identity document, signature, and name of the village, township, city, where collection of signatures takes place.

9. Petition forms are made in accordance with the model established by the Central Electoral Commission, and issued by the commission within two days of the official request of the initiative group to its representative.

10. The persons collecting signatures submit hand-filled petitions to the relevant district/city election commission. The election commission, within five days, validates [verifies] signatures on the petition sheets.

The district/city election commission carries out validation of signatures with the help of appropriate services and professionals. All signatures or a random sample (lottery) may be subject to verification.

The initiative group gathers and submits stitched and numbered signature sheets in support of their candidate to the Central Election Commission no later than 30 days before the election day. On receipt of the petition, the election commission certified all pages of each signature sheet and affixes it with the seal of acceptance of signatures sheets with the number of voter signatures, and the date and time of receipt.

11. If, on verification of signatures it is found that more than 2% signatures collected were inaccurate, the [election commission] may refuse to register the candidate.

12. The invalid signatures are:

  • Fictitious signatures (done on behalf of non-existent persons)
  • Signatures on behalf of different persons or one person signing for another person
  • Signatures of persons who are not eligible voters
  • Signatures of persons whose data on the sheets does not correspond to reality
  • Signatures collected before the deadline for nomination of candidates
  • Signatures of persons without one or more conditions mentioned in this Act being unfulfilled
  • Signatures of persons who are not resident in that area
  • Signatures on sheets where the data is not hand written or written in pencil, and also signatures where the data sheet is not filled in the voter’s own hand
  • All the signatures on the signature sheet [are invalid] if collected by someone other than a member of the initiative group, or if the signature sheet is not signed by a member of the initiative group, or signed by another member of the initiative group no collecting those signatures

13. The candidates for the [election of the] president of Turkmenistan must be notified on each occasion of signature verification. The process of verification may be witnessed by all candidates or their representatives of initiative groups. […….]

14. The failure to comply with the requirements of this article can make the petitions invalid.

Article 30: Registration of candidates for president of Turkmenistan

1. The registration of candidates for president of Turkmenistan by the Central Election Commission begins 45 days and ends 25 days before the election day.

Here are the relevant passages from the Constitution of Turkmenistan (new edition, adopted by Khalk Maslahaty on 26 September 2008):

Chapter II: President of Turkmenistan

Article 50: The President of Turkmenistan is the head of the state and executive power, the highest official of Turkmenistan, acting as guarantor of the state independence and the status of neutrality of Turkmenistan, its territorial integrity, respect for the Constitution and fulfillment of international obligations.

Article 51: A citizen of Turkmenistan, born in Turkmenistan, not younger than 45 years and not older than 70 years, who speaks the national language, has been living constantly in Turkmenistan and working in the state bodies, public associations, enterprise, institutions, organizations, for the past 15 years, can be elected as President of Turkmenistan.

Article 52: The President of Turkmenistan is elected directly by the people for a period of five years, and enters office on taking the oath.

The procedures for electing the President of Turkmenistan and his assumption of office are established by law.

nCa Commentary

Whoever the opposition candidates may be, it is certain that they would not be nominated by any political party or authorized group in Turkmenistan. The only way for them to enter the presidential race would be through collection of signatures of initiative groups.

Collection of 10000 VALID SIGNATURES within 15 days is a formidable task. With the conditions under which the signatures can be declared invalid, it would have to be a massive and error-free effort.

In addition, the candidates that could possibly contemplate participation as ‘opposition’ to the sitting regime, are all under either a court sentence in absentia or have law cases pending against them.

Even if these conditions were somehow removed, the Constitution and the Law ‘About Presidential Elections’ specify that the candidates must have at least 15 years of continuous stay in Turkmenistan and must be serving in “state bodies, public associations, enterprise, institutions, organizations, for the past 15 years, can be elected as President of Turkmenistan.”

Whether it is all doable or not depends on several internal and external factors. The schedule for presidential elections must be announced in little more than a month from now.

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