The post-Soviet government of the Republic of Turkmenistan retains many of the characteristics and the personnel of the communist regime of Soviet Turkmenistan. The government has received substantial international criticism as an authoritarian regime centering on the dominant power position of President Saparmyrat Niyazov. Nevertheless, the 1992 constitution does characterize Turkmenistan as a democracy with separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.
Centers of Political Power
In 1994 members of the former Communist Party of Turkmenistan continued to fill the majority of government and civic leadership posts, and much of the ideologically justified Soviet-era political structure remained intact. Besides serving as head of the Democratic Party (as the reconstituted Communist Party of Turkmenistan is called) and chairman of the advisory People's Council and the Cabinet of Ministers, Niyazov also appoints the procurator general and other officers of the courts. In criticizing Turkmenistan's political leadership, experts have cited the single-party system, strict censorship, repression of political dissent, and the "cult of personality" that has formed around President Niyazov. Niyazov's name has been given to streets, schools, communal farms, and numerous other places; his portrait and sayings receive prominent public display; the country's mass media give him extensive exposure that always characterizes him in a positive light; and a law "Against Insulting the Dignity and Honor of the President" is in force.
At the same time, Western and Russian criticism generally has revealed misunderstandings and stereotypes of the political and social dynamics of the region that dilute the authority of such evaluations. Beneath the surface of the presidential image, political life in Turkmenistan is influenced by a combination of regional, professional, and tribal factors. Regional ties appear to be the strongest of these factors; they are evident in the opposing power bases of Ashgabat, center of the government, and Mary, which is the center of a mafia organization that controls the narcotics market and illegal trade in a number of commodities. Although both areas are settled primarily by Turkmen of the Teke tribe, factions in Ashgabat still express resentment and distrust of those in Mary for failing to aid the fortress of Gokdepe against the 1881 assault that led to Russian control of the Turkmen khanates (see Incorporation into Russia, this ch.).
Political behavior also is shaped by the technocratic elites, who were trained in Moscow and who can rely on support from most of the educated professionals in Ashgabat and other urban areas. Most of the elites within the national government originate from and are supported by the intelligentsia, which also is the source of the few opposition groups in the republic.
Tribal and other kinship ties rooted in genealogies play a much smaller role than presumed by analysts who view Turkmen society as "tribal" and therefore not at a sophisticated political level. Nonetheless, clan ties often are reflected in patterns of appointments and networks of power. Regional and clan ties have been identified as the bases for political infighting in the republic. For example, in the early 1990s power bases pitted the Mary district chieftain Gurban Orazov against the Ashgabat millionaire and minister of agriculture Payzgeldi Meredov, and the Teke clan's hold on power through Niyazov conflicted with the Yomud clan's hold on the oil and gas industry through minister Nazar Soyunov. In July 1994, Niyazov removed both Meredov and Soyunov from office on the basis of evidence that the two ministers had misappropriated funds obtained from the sale of state-owned resources. To correct such problems, a Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations was formed to handle exports and imports, and a Control and Revision Commission was established to review contracts with foreign firms.
According to a law passed in December 1992, all permanent residents of Turkmenistan are accorded citizenship unless they renounce that right in writing. Non-residents may become citizens if they can demonstrate that they have resided in Turkmenistan for the past seven years and that they have some knowledge of the Turkmen language. Dual citizenship with certain other former Soviet republics is permitted. The CIS summit held in Ashgabat in December 1993 resulted in an accord on dual citizenship between the Russian Federation and Turkmenistan, allowing Turkmenistan's 400,000 ethnic Russians to achieve that status.
In May 1992, Turkmenistan became the first newly independent republic in Central Asia to ratify a constitution. According to the constitution and to literature printed by the government, Turkmenistan is a democratic, secular, constitutional republic based on law and headed by a president. It is also termed a "presidential republic," one that is "based on the principles of the separation of powers--legislative, executive, and judicial--which operate independently, checking and balancing one another."
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