“Turkmenistan has formally ended its one-party system with the creation of a business-oriented political party. But the new group’s arrival is unlikely to substantively lead to democratization in the authoritarian state,” AP reports:
The TDH state news agency said Tuesday that 300 delegates from business groups around the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation attended the founding congress of the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Turkmenistan.
Elections to be held in 2013 look likely to formally end the Democratic Party’s two-decade-long monopoly in parliament. The Democratic Party was created on the basis of the dissolved Communist Party in 1991.
“Launched on August 21 at the congress of a trade organization of the same name in Ashgabat,” RFE-RL reports [tongue-in-cheek, we suspect], the party “may finally give the citizens of Turkmenistan — already basking in the glow of the country’s “Era of Supreme Happiness” — a real choice at the ballot box.”
The party’s formation is no more than a “token nod to democracy unlikely to pose any challenge to the absolute rule of President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov (above) in the reclusive, gas-rich Central Asian state,” Reuters reports:
Known as Arkadag, or The Patron, Berdymukhamedov is president, prime minister, commander of the armed forces and leader of the Democratic Party which, until now, was the only legally registered political force in Turkmenistan.
Analysts are sceptical that the 54-year-old qualified dentist plans to relax his tight grip on the desert nation of 5.5 million people bordering Iran and Afghanistan, which BP says holds the world’s fourth-largest natural gas reserves.
Turkmen opposition activists live in exile and rights groups regularly rank the country among the world’s most repressive. Human Rights Watch said in its latest annual report that media and religious freedoms were subject to “draconian restrictions.”
Turkmenistan is one of the worst of the worst repressive states, says rights watchdog Freedom House, and among the world’s least democratic states, alongside Uzbekistan, Chad and North Korea, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index.
Civil society and rights groups are repressed and the regime has also targeted exiled dissidents. Human rights and pro-democracy groups highlighted a potentially life-threatening plot against Farid Tukhbatullin, who heads the Vienna-based NGO Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights.
In January, the regime finally permitted its critics to formally organize a rival party, reports suggest, but “to be authorized, a party’s governing structure must be ‘located exclusively on Turkmenistan territory,’ a clause that appeared to exclude other opposition movements, whose leaders all live in exile:
After the 2006 death of the dictator Saparmurat Niyazov, Berdymukhamedov took over the Democratic Party, formed from the Turkmen branch of the Soviet Communist Party. Berdymukhamedov embarked on cautious reform, ordering the creation of a multi-party system, but critics say the state remains deeply authoritarian and accuse him of now installing a personality cult of his own.
With 97 percent of the vote, Berdymukhamedov won a new five year-term in a February election shunned by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe because of its lack of competition. He beat seven challengers drawn from state ministries and enterprises, several of whom praised his achievements.