As the Turkmen unveil plans for the next presidential ballot, it is already clear that the election monitoring exercise will be designed and controlled by the state.
The country’s central election body met on August 15 to discuss preparations for the vote, scheduled for February 12 next year, five years after Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov rose to power following the unexpected death of Turkmenistan’s long-term leader, Saparmyrat Niazov.
It was announced that observers both from Turkmenistan and abroad would be invited to monitor the vote, but it was not clear what organisations would be allowed in, or how long they would get to be in the country prior to election day itself.
Since separating from the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan has held two presidential elections – one in 1992 to confirm communist-era boss Niazov as head of the newly independent state, and the second in 1997, after his death.
Foreign observers at the latter election came from the Commonwealth of Independent States, which gave it the thumbs up for fairness and openness. The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights did send a limited observer mission to a parliamentary election the following year, but did not issue a report.
This time round, analysts believe Turkmenistan may allow a wider range of foreign observers in as part of a strategy of engagement with western institutions. In April, for example, a European Parliament delegation visited Turkmenistan.
According to Vyacheslav Mamedov, leader of the Civil Democratic Union of Turkmenistan, a group based in the Netherlands, "Western diplomats take the view that Turkmenistan has undergone some positive changes, and this will inevitably increase the attention they pay to the electoral process."
Berdymuhammedov has suggested that opposition parties – which are not currently allowed to exist in Turkmenistan – could be allowed to field candidates.
"International institutions are certainly quite interested in what the Berdymuhammedov’s declarations will look like in practice, especially during the election campaign," Mamedov said. "So we can expect more serious observers to attend."
A political commentator in the capital Ashgabat said observers from the European Union and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation might get an invite “because the authorities don’t want to lose face".
This article was produced as part of IWPR’s News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.