On January 20, at the meeting with parliament (Medjlis) members, President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov pointed at the need of expedition of development and adoption of law “On political parties”, “unification” of the principles of establishment of elected institutions of civil society and called the members of parliament for more active protection of rights and liberties of citizens.
Such seemingly good intents as a matter of fact have nothing in common with the existing reality.
Today there is only one party called “democratic” that is formally functioning in the country, which contains the community of officials and other like-minded persons of the president including him.
At the Council of Elders held in August 2010 in Dashoguz velayat, in the north, president promised to register the party of farmers. This promise sounded after his calls of February 2010 to form parties “including opposition ones” and promises that such parties “may be registered”. However, things haven’t got forward an inch.
Why is this happening? This is the question wondering foreign high-ranking officials reliant on empty promises of the Turkmen leader.
The following conditions are required in order the multiparty system function effectively.
First, the country must observe the main human rights and freedoms currently missing. However, there are persecutions of dissidents, repressive measures, severe regime of movement, no freedom of speech.
Second, the multiparty system should be preceded by creation of the civil society totally destroyed in 20 years of repressive measures.
The leaders disagreeing with such practice were either put in jail, or immigrated, or intimidated so that they have no desire to be engaged in social activities. While a handful of activists heroically risking to work in the underground are under permanent fear of being arrested. In such situation any civil society would require at least seven years to be revived and give rise to the said multiparty system mentioned by Berdymuhammedov. Otherwise, the multiparty structure would be created at the behest of the authority and we would have the worst alternative as in neighbouring Kazakhstan with one pro-presidential party and other parties playing the role of decoration in the theatre.
On the other hand, Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov understands perfectly the existing Turkmen regime cannot remain “suspended” like the regime of North Korea. He also knows they should deviate from the monopoly relations with Russia and develop the relations in other directions. However, it is needless to say about serious relationships with democratic states in the existing regime.
The European Union that promoted dialog with Ashgabat recently can compromise to some extent. If the country has no actual democratic mechanisms, tramples upon the rights and freedoms, the cooperation with the West would be negated. The same concerns the energy sector being the main link in this dialog.
Therefore, the need for participation in the global processes and negotiations compels the leader of the state rich in oil and gas to show the transformation of the authoritarian regime. In this case the authority has instruments that can confuse the international community; in this case the instrument is the creation of multiparty system. The West is likely to “swallow” this attribute of pseudo-democracy and accept concession. While we, human rights activists and international groups, would have harder times convincing the powers that be not to make steps toward the democratic-looking regime.
Vyacheslav Mamedov, leader of Civil Democratic Union of Turkmenistan based in the Netherlands www.IWPR