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Turkmenistan: Multi-party politics as a means of strengthening President Berdymukhammedov’s regime

May 15, 2010

[Blogmaster note:  I wrote the following commentary for my Ruhnama blog. It may be of interest to IntelTrends’ readers. “Ruhnama” refers to a book written by Turkmenistan’s first president, Saparmyrat Niyazov, in which he outlines his political and philosophical beliefs.]

Turkmenistan:  Multi-party politics as a means of strengthening President Berdymukhammedov’s regime
By Steve in Wisconsin
©  Reflections on the Ruhnama
May 15, 2010

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov is advocating the formation of a second political party in Turkmenistan, which, in effect, would make the country a “multi-party democracy” – at least on paper. Addressing the Council of Elders yesterday in the town of Dashoguz he said that Turkmenistan is ready for a multi-party system, reports the Turkmen service of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.

President Berdymukhammedov, perceived by many as a pro-Western stooge, illegally assumed the presidency after the mysterious death of Saparmyrat Niyazov (Turkmenbashy the Great), the country’s first president and author of Ruhnama. Speculation is rife that Niyazov was poisoned in retaliation for shifting natural gas exports towards the East, notably China, and his disinclination to support Western ventures – everything from criticism of the proposed Trans-Caspian pipeline project to refusing to allow Afghanistan-bound military hardware and “coalition” troops to use his country as a staging and transit hub. Niyazov’s alleged assassination paved the way for “regime change” whereby Berdymukhammedov, the Minister of Health, became president after having the rightful successor, Ovezgeldy Atayev (the Speaker of Parliament), imprisoned immediately after Niyazov’s fatal “heart attack”.

The Halk Maslahaty (People’s Council consisting of elders and representatives from throughout Turkmenistan – and loyal to Niyazov) confirmed Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov’s presidency after he kissed the Ruhnama and promised to stay the course. After receiving confirmation, however, he disbanded the Halk Maslahaty. He then wrote a new constitution (because his actions were illegal under the original constitution) and began belittling the importance of Ruhnama (which says that any actions that violate the original constitution – such as the presidency passing to someone other than the Speaker of Parliament under these circumstances – are also illegal).

Berdymukhammedov’s presidency has been characterized by purging government of any officials who may, however remotely, be “suspected” of disloyalty. His predecessor’s appointees are no longer there – including numerous “career employees” whose only fault was being hired during Niyazov’s administration. Whereas the president tolerates no opposition, it is foolish to think he is committed to multi-party democracy. Rather, a second political party would serve as a means of identifying those individuals who are not 100% supportive of his rule.

A presidential declaration advocating a second political party is, however, not without an ulterior motive. To make such a statement and then fail to implement it would be counter-productive to Berdymukhammedov’s pro-Western image. Therefore, it is likely that a second political party will be formed (with members’ names on file with the government) as:

1)  a public-relations stunt for foreign consumption

2)  a justification for NATO and Western intervention to rescue President Berdymukhammedov’s fledgling “democracy” should Turkmenistan (and her vast natural gas reserves) be under threat, and

3)  to prevent a Kyrgystan-style people’s revolution by identifying and neutralizing potential individual and group (associative) threats in advance.

Absent from the president’s multi-party plan, however, is how to address the issue of Islamic fundamentalism. Just like Afghanistan’s puppet Karzai administration – which held “national elections” without the participation of the Taliban – President Berdymukhammedov is laying the groundwork for a home-grown insurgency by establishing a multi-party “democracy” through which change can never occur. Sham democracy is theatrics designed to placate foreign interests; to justify global investment and military intervention under the guise of “public good” whenever strategic locations or exploitable natural resources are under threat.

But even a sham democracy needs a measure of credibility. Afghan president Hamid Karzai, for example, was not about to repeat the mistake made by Algeria in 1991 when the pro-Western government allowed the Islamic Party to participate in – and WIN – the election, only to have the military seize power within days and nullify a legitimate Islamic victory.

President Berdymukhammedov was likely wiping perspiration from his forehead (and not caused by the heat) as he made his call for a multi-party system while in Dashoguz – near the border with Uzbekistan, a nation with an established Islamic insurgency and a corrupt president. Contrary to most analysts I believe that Turkmenistan already has a radical Islamic element, small and unorganized perhaps, but there just the same. Saparmyrat Niyazov kept this element “in check” through his neutralist foreign and trade policies (as set forth in Ruhnama) – but this cannot be said of President Berdymukhammedov who is moving closer to the West, which is perceived in Central Asia as an enemy of Islam. Mohammad Mohaddessin, in his book Islamic Fundamentalism, mentions that “Turkmen youths were reported especially vulnerable to Tehran’s fundamentalist propaganda.” That said, merely creating a sham multi-party democracy is insufficient to stem the potential for religious-fueled violence.

It is this writer’s opinion that President Berdymukhammedov is hoping to “buy time” by re-branding his illegal regime as a democratic government (in a limited sense) – and aligning himself with foreign military muscle – while ignoring a root cause that motivates jihad: collusion with nations, businesses and individuals believed to be detrimental to the cause of Islam.