The biggest challenge for Turkmenistan’s new President will be to address the country’s economic problems without straying too far from the course set by his predecessor.
Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov won 89 percent of votes in the February 11 poll, according to government figures, and was inaugurated in Ashgabat on February 14.
The 49-year old dentist previously served as health minister and deputy prime minister in Saparmurat Niazov’s government. When the dictator died suddenly at the end of December last year, Berdymuhammedov was appointed acting president by the Security Council.
The ceremony took place at a meeting of Turkmen Halk Maslahaty, or the People’s Council, before 2600 council members and foreign delegations from 30 countries.
After the election results were announced, Halk Maslahaty approved Berdymuhammedov’s presidency and he was sworn in for a five-year term.
Berdymuhammedov assured all those present at the ceremony that Turkmenistan would honour its international obligations and continue exporting gas and oil.
Under the Turkmen constitution, Berdymuhammedov will be both president and prime minister. He will have to form a new cabinet one month from now but until then the current members will stay in place.
In his speech, the president promised to continue providing free gas, electricity, water and salt, and cheap bread and gasoline to citizens, as his predecessor had.
He appeared to depart from Niazov’s policies, however, when he pledged to make the internet and mobile phones available and reintroduce full-length education in schools and universities. Niazov had cut the length of time students spent in school and university, greatly limiting citizen’s ability to further their educations abroad.
NBCentralAsia sources based in Ashgabat say that “serious consultations” have already begun to apportion higher posts on the basis of factors such as balance of representation among the regions.
NBCentralAsia expert Kurban Uvshanov says that radical changes to existing practices are not possible, and that Berdymuhammedov “will use the methods of the previous regime” to distribute places in the governmental. “He will handpick people on the basis of personal allegiance,” he said.
An Ashgabat-based NBCentralAsia observer agrees, saying that the authorities will follow the principle of “succession” while appointing ministers and their deputies.
But it is also worth taking into account the fact that the main task for Berdymuhammedov’s government should be to revive Turkmenistan’s economy. This means that harsh methods for controlling and removing government officials cannot be used as before.
“A lot of the forced resignations and constant rotation of state officials will be stopped. Dismissals without the provision of another job will also be put to an end,” said the NBCentralAsia observer.
Other commentators add that the ideal situation would be to create a working cabinet of ministers comprised of field experts and competent managers, although this is unlikely.
“There are no managers at [a governmental] level in Turkmenistan. Some are not in power, others are in prison or in exile, or have emigrated,” said a human rights activist in Ashgabat.
http://www.tmhelsinki.org/en/modules/news/admin/index.php?op=newarticle (News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)