Changes to the Turkmen constitution have granted more authority to the country’s State Security Council, a powerful grouping that includes the country’s general prosecutor, high-ranking officers, the heads of security agencies and members of the presidential protection service.
One of four amendments to the constitution made in late December allows the security council to convene the country’s highest legislative body - the Halk Maslahaty [People’s Council] - if the president or Halk Maslahaty chairman is unable to do so. This gives the security council the ability to influence all legislation before the Halk Maslahaty, which exists mainly to rubber stamp any proposals that come before it.
Other amendments include reducing the age requirement for presidential candidates from 50 to 40 and eliminating the stipulation that the acting president cannot stand for the presidency. This has allowed the main contender to replace Saparmurat Niazov, 49-year-old Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov, to become a candidate in the February 11 presidential poll.
Ashgabat sources told NBCentralAsia that an agreement exists between Berdymuhammedov and General Akmurad Redjepov, the head of the president’s protection service, who have united to maintain the status quo and increase the power of the security council.
“The Turkmen junta … has succeeded in reaching an agreement on all key aspects to legitimise its authority at this stage,” said analyst Vyacheslav Mamedov.
Tajigul Begmedova, who heads the Turkmen Helsinki Fund, describes the amendments as “clearly illegal and too hasty”. “The security council is not a constitutional but deliberative body,” said Begmedova.
Nurlan Sadykov, director of Bishkek-based Institute of the Constitutional Policy, believes the constitution is being used for “improper purposes”.
Lawyers interviewed by NBCentralAsia agree with Begmedova, saying the security council traditionally performs the functions of defence and protection of the state rather than deciding on issues of state governance, usually the prerogative of the parliament and government.
Other commentators say that if Turkmenistan is to follow the path of democratic development, the special powers of the security council should be revoked and handed over to the Medjlis, the parliament of the country.
(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region)