Turkmenistan’s election to the vice-chairmanship of the United Nations General Assembly is part of the normal rotation among member states, and cannot be taken as a sign that conditions in the country have significantly improved, say NBCentralAsia analysts.
Turkmenistan was appointed to the position on July 25.
Vladimir Goryachev, deputy director of the Asia and Pacific section of the UN Secretariat’s political affairs department, said the nomination was “evidence of international recognition for Turkmenistan’s progressive and effective political direction in a new phase of national development”, according to the Turkmen president’s press office.
Each year, the General Assembly elects 21 vice-chairs representing all five continents to manage and organise assembly sessions. The positions rotate every year to give all countries an equal chance of sitting on the board.
NBCentralAsia observers say Turkmenistan’s appointment does not point to significant progress in political reforms or the protection of human rights.
“This appointment is a mere technicality which does not take into account either the domestic political situation or the country’s or role in the international arena,” an NBCentralAsia observer in Ashgabat explained.
He says that the news will nevertheless by exploited by government propagandists to persuade people that the authorities have won international approval for the political direction they have taken.
President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov, who was elected earlier this year following the death of Sapurmarat Niazov, has pledged to institute reforms and has taken a number of steps to relax his predecessor’s policies.
But while social and political reforms may be under way, the population is still kept tightly under control and there are thousands of political prisoners in jail.
Tajigul Begmedova, head of the Turkmen Helsinki Fund, an émigré group based in Bulgaria, says Goryachev’s remarks about Turkmenistan’s “progressive and effective” policies directly contradicts a recent World Bank assessment of the country.
Last month, the World Bank issued a report on state governance, giving Turkmenistan the lowest possible score for its corruption levels, human rights, freedom of movement and quality of goverment.
“Contradictory assessments issued by international institutions are bad for the Turkmen people,” said Begmedova. “It makes life harder for those who are trying to reveal the real situation when there are such double standards and unprincipled assessments.”
By contrast, an NBCentralAsia analyst from the western Balkan region of Turkmenistan believes that the situation is actually changing and the UN is justified in arguing view that the new political direction is progressive.
In addition, he said, “For any country or institution with an interest in oil and gas resources, this is a country pursuing effective policies, and one that will continue to do so.”
Another NBCentralAsia observer in Turkmenistan agrees that the country is beginning to liberalise. While different international organisations may offer conflicting opinions, he said, “they are both right, paradoxically enough. The regime is still authoritarian, but there are many positive changes happening”.
(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)