The authorities in Turkmenistan will exploit the presence of foreign election observers at the forthcoming presidential ballot to lend credence to a largely undemocratic process, NBCentralAsia analysts say.
Several weeks before the February 11 presidential election, the Turkmen authorities announced that for the first time in the country’s history, they would consider admitting foreign observers.
On February 2, the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, ODIHR, said it would send a small team of experts to monitor the polls. However, ODIHR said that given the lack of preparation time, it would be unable to carry out comprehensive monitoring and would not file an election report.
Mars Sariev, an NBCentralAsia expert on Turkmenistan, sees the stance ODIHR has taken as proof that the election will fall far short of international standards, no matter how many observers there are on the day.
“The election result is a foregone conclusion, and everyone knows that. Having foreign observers is nothing more than a show,” Sariev says. “[The ODIHR presence] should be seen as an attempt to resume dialogue but nothing more.”
Voters have a choice of six candidates to replace President Saparmurat Niazov, who died in December, but the current acting president, Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov, is the undoubted favourite.
Other observers say the OSCE observers will only be granted access to carefully controlled polling stations.
According to NBCentralAsia expert Oleg Gant, “This group of observers will be like ceremonial guests… they’ll be shown a model polling station.”
Yet Tajigul Begmedova, head of the Turkmen Helsinki Fund, an émigré group based in Bulgaria, is more optimistic. She suggests that allowing restricted access to even a small group of observers sets an important precedent. Their very presence, she argues, “will help stop Turkmenistan perceiving them as something hostile, and instead see this as a natural process”.
Nevertheless, Begmedova said, the presence of observers will not make the elections any fairer - and the political elite will capitalise on this “concession” to the international community in order to give legitimacy to its rule.
“The Turkmen authorities are really interested in winning international recognition, so at an international level, they will portray this [the arrival of election observers] as progress, and it will also be used as PR within the country,” she said.
(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad rahttp://www.iwpr.net/?apc_state=hrubbtm329148&l=en&s=b&p=btm&o=329149nge of political observers across the region.)