Home > Ruhnama blog, TURKMENISTAN > New Turkmenistan constitution abolishes Halk Maslahaty

New Turkmenistan constitution abolishes Halk Maslahaty

September 26, 2008

©  Reflections on the Ruhnama
By Steve in Wisconsin
Publication date:  September 26, 2008

Turkmenistan’s President, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, ushered in a new constitution today – dealing a blow to the country’s late president Saparmyrat Turkmenbashy’s legacy by abolishing the Halk Maslahaty (People’s Council).

Turkmenbashy writes:

The highest representative body of popular power is the People’s Council (Halk Maslahaty) of Turkmenistan.

The state is the essence of the national spirit. That is why the nation state is the realization of the moral and spiritual values that belong to the nation and a symbol of the combination of unity with political will.

Our ancestors had the custom of all coming together and building a house for one of their number. Similarly, in the establishment of the foundations of the state, we came together and established the structure of our state following the same custom. It is the essential duty of every citizen of ours now to consolidate this structure, which will disseminate its light to the whole world, and to exert all their efforts for it to reach its goal – to enter the Golden Age.

To give priority to, show respect for, and refer to the opinions, intelligence, wisdom and experience of the elderly has been one of the ethical values of the Turkmen state since ancient times. This value is one of the main principles of the modern Turkmen state we have established. The most essential element in establishing the state is to take into account national values, history, worldview and so on. That is why the Halk Maslahaty, the People’s Council, is the principal organ of the state administration, and it should remain so in the future. In this way, we will have retained the experience of state which belongs to our national history.

Ruhnama I, pp. 254-256
(English hardcover edition. Underlined emphasis added.)

Turkmenbashy established the Halk Maslahaty in the early 1990s as a ‘council of elders’ to draw upon the wisdom and experience of older Turkmens. Its 2,057 members – from all parts of Turkmenistan – gathered annually to participate in the legislative process and this allowed them to report back to their villages and representative regions the affairs of state. In 2003, Turkmenbashy elevated the Halk Maslahaty to the country’s highest legislative body.
[Ref. “New Turkmenistan constitution abolishes People’s Council”
RIA Novosti 26/09/2008.]

After Great Turkmenbashy’s mysterious death on 21 December 2006 the Minister of Health, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, quickly assumed power in violation of the existing constitution and after the designated successor, Ovezgeldy Atayev, was imprisoned. This necessitated a “new” constitution – the one enacted today – to legitimize Berdymukhamedov’s illegal presidency. Furthermore, it was the Halk Maslahaty that rubber-stamped changes to the former constitutionwhich allowed him to assume power in the first place. Thus, the Halk Maslahaty demonstrated its ability to manipulate the country’s constitution – and presumably (had it not been disbanded today) it could authorize the replacement of Berdymukhamedov himself at some point in the future. It is indeed ironic that the same legislative body that allowed this man to become president should be disbanded by him.

The international media, as to be expected, has accepted the premise of the new constitution as another step forward by Turkmenistan’s “progressive” president. But, was this new constitution enacted as a reform – or is it the result of Berdymukhamedov’s fear that his own position in charge of Central Asia’s natural gas mecca is uncertain at best?

In a U.S. Army War College publication dated September 2007 titled “Turkmenistan and Central Asia after Niyazov” author Stephen J. Blank writes:

[T]here are numerous signs that Berdymukhamedov knows his position is weak and insecure. One example may be his call for reforms in January 2007. Second, the constitutional manipulations that were needed to ensure Berdymukhamedov’s ascension to power were notably crass, for example, changing the order of succession so that he, a Deputy Premier and Vice-Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers, became the heir designate as the Speaker, Atayev, was “no longer capable” of assuming that role. Indeed, Berdymukhamedov had not attained the age necessary under the original constitution to be named President. So they had to change the constitution to let anyone from 40 to 70 years old be eligible.

[pp. 23, 24.]

Turkmenbashy, Berdymukhamedov’s predecessor, was very protective of the country’s constitution and believed it would ensure Turkmenistan’s continued neutrality and advancement towards the envisioned Golden Age. He wrote in Ruhnama:
The Turkmenistan Constitution is the supreme Law of the state. The norms and provisions stipulated therein have direct effect. Laws and other legal acts that contradict the Constitution do not have legal force.

Ruhnama I, p. 250.

This means that the new constitution itself is illegal. Turkmenbashy believed that the former constitutional provisions would prohibit the rise to power of someone like Berdymukhamedov – who clearly has an alternate agenda, whether it be his own or at the behest of an international puppet-master.

The Halk Maslahaty, while portrayed by foreign media as a legislative organ created by Turkmenbashy to rubber-stamp his decisions, has instead proven itself quite the opposite – both in its decision to proclaim Turkmenbashy as president for life, and in its ability to waive constitutional clauses. In one sense this was the ultimate form of “checks and balances” – an assembly of more than 2,000 elders from throughout Turkmenistan with the ability to replace the president with someone deemed more suitable.

From Berdymukhamedov’s standpoint the Halk Maslahaty was a threat to his position and therefore must be disbanded. Although the Council can be said to have participated in its own demise by approving the new constitution, this disbandment is a loss for the people of Turkmenistan.


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