The authorities in Turkmenistan say the process of nominating multiple candidates for local elections has been completed successfully, and that campaigning is attracting a lot of public interest. NBCentralAsia commentators say that in reality, voters know little about either the forthcoming ballot or the candidates themselves, who have been handpicked for their loyalty to the regime.
Elections to district and town councils have been set for December 3. The Central Electoral Committee, CEC, has registered 6,133 candidates for the 2,640 seats. State-run media are covering the electoral process with reports from public meetings held to nominate “worthy candidates”.
NBCentralAsia sources in Turkmenistan say the candidate lists were compiled in advance by the authorities, and the names selected by the Ministry of National Security.
“In many constituencies, there are two candidates – each of them vetted to ensure they are loyal to the regime,” a human rights activist told NBCentralAsia.
On November 16, the Turkmen Human Rights Initiative, a group which operates in emigration, voiced concern that the election would be entirely controlled by the authorities. “State officials approve uniformly pro-government candidates, and election officials accompanied by police have been going from door to door to ensure that people vote for the right person,” said the group.
Further evidence of the government’s grip on the selection process is provided by the lists of registered candidates, which feature people who were never even discussed or nominated at the workers’ staff meetings.
One such case is the head of the National Paraolympics Committee and National Special Olympics Centre, who has emerged as a candidate even though sportsmen with disabilities say no one nominated him.
Some individuals took the announcement of pluralist democratic elections at face value and put themselves forward. However, after a talking-to from the secret service, such people tend to change their minds.
“One such unsuccessful candidate is a teacher from the Balkan region, who was invited in for a discussion at the regional branch of the National Security Ministry,” Tajigul Begmedova, head of the Turkmen Helsinki Fund for Human Rights, told NBCentralAsia. “After that, he decided not to take part in the ballot.”
(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)