Turkmen President Wins Third Term

On February 17, sitting Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov was inaugurated, following his victory on February 12, where he won his third term as president with 97.69 percent of the vote.

Berdimuhamedov has been in power since 2007, when Turkmenistan’s previous ruler, dictator Saparmurat Niyazov, died. Berdimuhamedov won that election with 89 percent of the vote, but had not been Niyazov’s handpicked successor.

Although Turkmenistan ceased to be a one-party state in 2012, the presidential election that same year only allowed the Democratic Party (the ruling party since gaining independence in 1991) to participate. In that election, Berdimuhamedov won 97.14 percent of the vote.

The election in 2017 is the first election to allow multiple parties, permitting eight other candidates – all of whom were selected by the sitting government—to participate. The failure of any other candidate to pose a chance of winning the election is largely due to Turkmenistan’s state-run media and oppression of political activists.

Berdimuhamedov’s platform focuses on the development of the economy, which is currently dependent on natural gas (of which Turkmenistan has the world’s third largest potential reserves), oil, and intensive agriculture.

When he took over, Berdimuhamedov ended many unpopular actions taken by Niyazov, such the prohibition of foreign language in schools and the closing of many village hospitals. He also removed the infamous Golden Statue of Niyazov and returned the months and days to their traditional names, which Niyazov had renamed after himself and his family.

Since becoming president, however, Berdimuhamedov has erected a 69-foot statue of himself riding a horse, and has worked to build his own cult of personality as Turkmenistan’s physically talented Arkadag, or Protector.

This was the first election since changes to the constitution were made in September of 2016, which extended presidential term limits from five to seven years and allowed presidential candidates to be older than the age 70. This will allow Berdimuhamedov, born in 1957, to remain president well into the 2020s.