Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
Despite a constitutional provision giving citizens the ability to choose their government in periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage, there had been no free and fair elections in the country. There was no bona fide political opposition to the president, and alternative candidates came from derivative party structures, such as the state-controlled Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, or were members of individual initiative groups. Elections were conducted by secret ballot. The constitution declares the country to be a secular democracy in the form of a presidential republic. It calls for separation of powers among the branches of government but vests a disproportionate share of power in the presidency. The president’s power over the state continued to be nearly absolute. According to the OSCE, the election law does not meet OSCE standards.
Elections and Political Participation
In 2016 parliament ratified a new constitution that extended the presidential term in office from five to seven years and failed to reinstitute term limits for the presidency.
Recent Elections: In the February 2017 presidential election, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov won 97.69 percent of the vote.
The government invited an OSCE/ODIHR Election Assessment Mission (EAM) team, the Commonwealth of Independent States Executive Committee, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to observe the election. According to the OSCE/ODIHR EAM, “The presidential election took place in a strictly controlled political environment. The predominant position of the incumbent and the lack of genuine opposition and meaningful pluralism limited voters’ choice. The lack of clear regulations for key aspects of the process had a negative impact on the administration of the election, especially at lower levels.”
In March, 125 members of parliament (Mejlis), 240 provincial-level, and 1,200 district-level representatives of the People’s Council (Halk Maslahaty), and 5,900 local municipality (Gengesh) candidates were elected. In the election 31 women were entered parliament.
An OSCE/ODIHR EAM team monitoring the elections reported in May that “the elections lacked important features of a genuinely democratic electoral process. The political environment is only nominally pluralist, and the exercise of fundamental freedoms was severely curtailed. Despite measure to demonstrate transparency, the integrity of the elections was not ensured, leaving the veracity of results in doubt.”
Political Parties and Political Participation: The law makes it extremely difficult for genuinely independent political parties to organize, nominate candidates, and campaign, since it grants the Ministry of Justice broad powers over the registration process and the authority to monitor party meetings. The law prohibits political parties based on religion, region, or profession as well as parties that “offend moral norms.” The law does not explain how a party may appeal its closure by the government. The law permits public associations and organizations to put forth candidates for elected office. State media covered the activities of President Berdimuhamedov, the Democratic Party, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, the Agrarian Party, and trade and professional unions.
Neither organized opposition nor independent political groups operated in the country. The three registered political parties were the ruling Democratic Party (the former Communist Party), the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, and the Agrarian Party. Each of these parties, which were progovernment in orientation, nominated a candidate for the February presidential election. Initiative groups put forward six additional candidates who were running in their individual capacities. The government did not officially prohibit membership in other political organizations, but there were no reports of persons who claimed membership in political organizations other than these three parties and a smattering of representatives of individual initiative groups. Authorities did not allow opposition movements based abroad–including the National Democratic Movement of Turkmenistan, the Republican Party of Turkmenistan, and the Fatherland (Watan) Party–to operate within the country.
Participation of Women and Minorities: Although women served in prominent government positions, including as speaker of parliament, only one woman served in the 12-member Cabinet of Ministers (as the deputy chairwoman for Culture, TV, and Press). The government gave preference for appointed government positions to ethnic Turkmen, but ethnic minorities occupied some senior government positions. Members of the president’s Ahal-Teke tribe, the largest in the country, held the most prominent roles in cultural and political life.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
While the law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials reportedly often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption existed in the security forces and in all social and economic sectors. Factors encouraging corruption included the existence of patronage networks, low government salaries that in the latter half of the year were paid as much as three months behind schedule, a lack of fiscal transparency and accountability, the absence of published macroeconomic data, and the fear of government retaliation against citizens who choose to highlight corrupt acts. According to Freedom House and the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators, the country had a severe corruption problem.
Corruption: The former minister of agriculture and water resources, former deputy chairperson of the state committee on television and radio, and 30 officials in the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection were arrested during the year over allegations of corruption. The minister of national security was fired after five months of service over allegations of corruption.
Financial Disclosure: The law does not require elected or appointed officials to disclose their incomes or assets. Financial disclosure requirements are neither transparent nor consistent with international norms. Government enterprises are not required to publicize financial statements, even to foreign partners. Local auditors, not internationally recognized firms, often conducted financial audits.