PICKING A WINNER IN TURKMENISTAN  If the president is going to win
anyway, why does he feel a need to talk democracy and pluralism?  By
Inga Sikorskaya


TAJIKISTAN'S LIMITED OPTIONS At home, the government confines
appointments to circle of insiders, while abroad the country has few
real friends.  By Lola Olimova

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If the president is going to win anyway, why does he feel a need to
talk democracy and pluralism?

By Inga Sikorskaya

Turkmenistan’s president Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov is standing for a
second term on February 12. Since the outcome is a foregone
conclusion, IWPR asked Inga Sikorskaya, senior editor for Turkmenistan
and Uzbekistan, to explain why Berdymuhammedov is even bothering to
campaign, why he has invited candidates to oppose him, and why he has
promised to allow more than the current one political party to exist.


Why is Berdymuhammedov making this show of interest in political pluralism?

The president sees this pre-election as an opportunity to publicise
his ostensibly democratic intentions, as he’s aware that at times like
this, the international community pays slightly more attention than
usual to what’s going on in Turkmenistan.

As some other Central Asian states undergo political change,
Berdymuhammedov wants to show that his country, too, is shifting
towards democracy. Kyrgyzstan elected a new president last October
last year, in the first ever peaceful handover of power in Central
Asia. This month’s election in Kazakstan ensured that two more
political parties – albeit both loyal to the authorities – could enter
a parliament previously occupied solely by the presidential party.

Secondly, it gives him an opportunity to try out some new electoral
practices. Forming groups of citizens to nominate candidates and
passing a law allowing a multiparty system are unprecedented moves.
It’s important to Berdymuhammedov to gauge the reaction from voters,
and to test their loyalty to him. He may also hope these changes will
increase his support, as some voters may still be swayed by
initiatives that look like reform.

Third, even though they are token gestures, they may be a way of
initiating more substantive changes in a gradual, controlled manner.
This may reflect a desire to stave off the kind of upset that Arab
countries have been experiencing as their populations run out of
patience and oust authoritarian rulers.


What’s the significance of Berdymuhammedov’s call for a multiparty system?

It is unlikely this signifies a move towards a more pluralist system.
The conditions for that just don’t exist in Turkmenistan. Passing
legislation on a multiparty system doesn’t mean it will actually
happen. Last summer, Berdymuhammedov invited opposition groups abroad
to come back and compete in the elections, but he did nothing to make
that possible. Turkmenistan’s constitution contains guarantees of
rights and freedoms which don’t exist in reality.

Instead of genuine pluralism, we are likely to see one or two parties
emerging that have been created by the leadership. We see this in
neighbouring Uzbekistan, where artificially-created pro-regime parties
were brought into parliament to create the appearance of pluralism.

If there is any positive aspect to these moves by Berdymuhammedov,
it’s that they may encourage opposition groups in exile, which are
weak and limited in what they can do, to starting mobilising.


The OSCE has refused to monitor the presidential election because it
doesn’t meet any of the requirements for a free and fair ballot. If
the outcome is so clear, why are there several candidates?

The whole electoral process has been tightly controlled by the
authorities. They have allowed seven other candidates through, all of
them handpicked and vetted for loyalty test. One look at their
election programmes is enough to tell you that they are there just to
shore up support for the incumbent.

It’s all an empty gesture designed to create the impression of
democratic reforms. Over the last five years, Berdymuhammedov will no
doubt have been watching how long-serving leaders in other countries
engineer landslide victories while seeming to allow multiple


Berdymuhammedov says he wants to transform Turkmenistan into an
industrial power. What has he done to achieve this aim by diversifying
the economy beyond oil and gas?

He launched his election campaign by repeating a pledge to turn this
largely agrarian country into an industrialised state, with new
factories, high-tech farming, and a bigger private sector. However,
none of these promises is backed up by anything solid. Nor it is easy
to imagine anything changing, as nothing gets done without
Berdymuhammedov’s personal approval. He alone decides singlehandedly
on every deal and contract that gets signed.

Inga Sikorskaya is IWPR senior editor for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.



At home, the government confines appointments to circle of insiders,
while abroad the country has few real friends.

By Lola Olimova

Tajikistan’s government is incapable of making the changes needed to
take the country forward because it is not geared up to hiring the
best and brightest, and because its external relationships with key
regional states are troubled, a leading analyst says.

IWPR asked Dushanbe-based political analyst Nurali Davlatov to outline
the constraints on economic progress, the main sources of public
dissatisfaction, and the limitations of the administration led by
President Imomali Rahmon.

IWPR: There’s recently been an increasing amount of criticism of the
Tajik authorities in the media, on the internet and elsewhere. Why is
this happening, and why now?

Nurali Davlatov: We are highly reliant on external factors and events.
Take food security – what happens if Uzbekistan cuts off our rail
links to the outside world? We experienced something close to that
last year.

The same is true of energy security. For the last 16 years Tajikistan
has experienced an annual energy crisis. It has virtually no
electricity six months out of the 12, and the power stations that are
supposed to provide heating to residential areas don’t work, even in
the capital. There are constantly problems with natural gas, one of
many areas where we depend on Uzbekistan.

Our relationship with Russia hasn’t been that friendly recently,
either. So we’ve got problems with both Uzbekistan and Russia. In
Afghanistan, meanwhile, the war continues and it isn’t clear how
things are going to develop there, because sooner or later the
Americans will come to terms with the Taleban.

Relations with China are superficially good, but we risk becoming
dependent on it down the line. It provides us with loans, but these
just result in an influx of Chinese workers. It also requires loans to
be repaid on time, otherwise it will remove what it has built. And now
we are leasing out farmland to the Chinese.

So one side of the problem is Tajikistan’s standing in the world.

The second thing is that everything we do is so ineffective. The
excuse used to be that we’d endured a civil war. But 15 years have
gone by since that ended, and people are still being fed empty
promises – everything will soon be fine, we’ll be self-sufficient in
energy, and we’ll only have to wait another two or three more years
for this. This is repeated year after year.

The danger is that the public’s trust has its limits, and could soon
be at an end. These media reports are a warning sign that people’s
patience is running out.

Promises won’t work for ever. You have to carry out some sort of
action – substantive programmes that will achieve some kind of
headway, if not drag the country out of crisis.

Thus far, we haven’t seen any sign of progress. Why are the factories
and companies that were privatised in the early years of independence
not actually functioning? Why are the remittances sent home by migrant
workers in Russia not helping rebuild the Tajik economy? The money
goes on consumption or flows out again [to fund imports]. We don’t
produce anything ourselves, and we don’t have any plans to do so.

IWPR: There was a government reshuffle at the beginning of 2012. Will
this new team be able to carry forwards the changes that Tajikistan so
badly needs?

Davlatov: It’s the same team as before. There isn’t a single new face
there. This is a legacy of the Soviet period – once you get into the
“nomenklatura” elite, you will only get thrown out under extraordinary
circumstances. You remain there regardless of whether you can do the

IWPR: So how do people get into the top echelons of power?

Davlatov: The principle of regionalism was established in the 1940s,
when for the first time ethnic Tajiks were appointed to top posts in
Soviet Tajikistan. From then until the early 1990s, officials from
northern Tajikistan were in charge, backed by Moscow.

That balance was upset in 1992, when there was a power-struggle and
the Popular Front [from Kulob in southern Tajikistan] came out on top
and began appointing its own people. Later on, one man began deciding
everything – President Rahmon. The team that came to power in 1992 was
divided internally, so they initially got official posts but were
gradually weeded out and sidelined. So initially Kulob region was in
charge, but later the top jobs went to people from just one district
there, Dangara, the president’s birthplace.

Anyone who comes to power in Tajikistan is going to rely on his “avlod” or clan.

IWPR: Isn’t that rather a pessimistic view?

Davlatov: A nation’s psychological makeup takes decades or centuries
to form. Tajiks are currently at a stage where they will place more
reliance in their avlod, their village, or their district than on

IWPR: We are always hearing, including from President Rahmon, that
Tajikistan is short of skilled personnel. In your view, are there
people here with the professional skills to implement much-needed

Davlatov: Tajikistan has professionals, although they don’t
necessarily live here – they are scattered around the world these

The people who are actually in power came from rural districts and
collective farms. Dushanbe’s previous residents emigrated and are
working in Europe or America.

What we need is good managers, good programmes, and people to devise
those programmes if we can’t do it ourselves. We need government that
is conscientious, not corrupt, and that regards itself as servant
rather than master of the nation.

Interview conducted by Lola Olimova, IWPR editor for Tajikistan.

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