Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov’s dismissal of influential security officials has alarmed NBCentralAsia commentators, who are concerned that he is merely consolidating his own power base rather than clearing the way for democratic reform.
On May 17, Berdymuhammedov sacked Akmurat Rejepov, the influential head of the presidential guard, and Agajan Passyev, first deputy minister of national security.
Russian media which reported the sackings quickly retracted suggestions that Minister of National Security Geldymurad Ashirmuhammedov had also been removed, and had been arrested.
One of Rejepov’s close associates, Interior Minister Akmamed Rahmanov, was dismissed last month for “tolerating serious shortcomings in the work of the law enforcement agencies”.
After President Saparmurat Niazov died suddenly last December, the influential Rejepov played a crucial role in ensuring the Berdymuhammedov’s smooth rise to power. Rejepov helped secure the constitutional amendments needed to sweep aside technical obstacles to his accession to the presidency.
In February, Berdymuhammedov reappointed all the security chiefs who had served under Niazov. At the time, commentators predicted that these officials would continue to influence the head of state and would probably oppose any attempt to introduce liberal reforms.
However, NBCentralAsia experts now say the recent dismissals show the new president is growing in strength.
An NBCentralAsia observer based in Ashgabat says he does not expect radical changes now that Rejepov has been removed. He thinks it would be wrong to draw analogies with the “de-Stalinisation” process of the Fifties, in which Nikita Khruschev removed security officials close to his predecessor.
“All that has happened is that a power struggle hitherto taking place in the shadows has become visible, together with a few faint nods in the direction of liberalism which are aimed at the domestic public and the international community,” he said.
Another Turkmen observer sees the shake-up as the start of a process where Berdymuhammedov will surround himself with a new set of people, drawn from his relatives and others from his place of origin.
“He is now making numerous appointments of people who are loyal to him and won’t let him down. It’s clear he has learned from the experience of Niazov, who periodically had to deal with plots created by people in whom he’d placed his trust,” said the observer.
Human rights activist Tajigul Begmedova believes the sacked security officials fell foul of a commission that Berdymuhammedov set up to oversee the law-enforcement agencies.
Begmedova says the scant information coming out of Turkmenistan makes it impossible to guess what will come of Berdymuhammedov’s move. Nor is it clear what will happen to Rejepov, who has officially been “transferred to another post”.