Opposition calls for the new Turkmen government to break with the late president Sapurmurat Niazov’s legacy and start reforming the economy will inevitably fall on deaf ears, according to NBCentralAsia experts.
On February 27, the United Democratic Opposition of Turkmenistan, an umbrella group, offered to cooperate with the country’s new leadership on economic matters.
The group advised the government to make the Turkmen national currency fully convertible, check the money held in Niazov’s foreign bank accounts, put parliament in charge of the financial and banking systems, and review oil and gas policy. Finally, they want a commission of government officials and opposition representatives to value Turkmenistan’s gold and foreign currency reserves.
Vyacheslav Mamedov, leader of the Civil Democratic Union which is part of the United Democratic Opposition, says these are the basic reforms needed to revive the economy and begin developing domestic goods and services to compete on the international market.
But Mamedov acknowledges that the new president, Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov, is unlikely to heed the opposition’s advice.
“Berdymuhammedov would only implement the opposition’s recommendations if he were to embark on democratic reforms, but he seized power with the aim of perpetuating authoritarian rule,” he said.
Other analysts interviewed by NBCentralAsia expressed similar doubts that the government will listen to outside advice, since it has yet to announce an economic programme and to date has merely said it will continue Niazov’s policies.
An NBCentralAsia political observer in Ashgabat said that in any case, the authorities would hardly agree to work with the opposition, which is largely led by former officials who fled persecution by Niazov.
Tajigul Begmedova, who heads the Turkmen Helsinki fund, an émigré group based in Bulgaria, says that the new leadership’s policy is to “not even to allow the hypothetical possibility that the opposition could engage inside the country”.
But she still sees a chance for reforms to happen, albeit by other means.
“If there is incessant lobbying by international organisations, systematic monitoring to provide an accurate picture of what’s going on inside Turkmenistan, and a tough stance on human rights and media freedom issues, then the new leadership will… be forced to carry out reforms,” she said.
(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)