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TURKMENISTAN


 

 

Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 6,010 7,672 4,000 110
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,120 1,200 950 131
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 365 - (26/02/12)

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov has secured five more years as leader of the Central Asian state, keeping the EU’s prospects for buying gas from the country the same.

As expected, on February 12, Berdymuhamedov won 97 per cent of votes in a presidential election that international observers didn’t even bother to oversee for lack of competition.

This was only the third time since Turkmenistan became independent due to the collapse of the Soviet Union that presidential elections have been held in the country, and only the second time there has been more than one candidate running.

Berdymuhamedov, 54, ran against seven candidates including government ministers and the director of a state-run textile factory, but none of them presented a threat. All applauded him in the run-up to the polls, and few voters recognised anyone on the ballot paper other than the president, whose portrait hangs in parks, streets, offices and hotel lobbies across the country.

At polling stations, performers in national dress danced and sang songs to Berdymuhammedov, who has been president since winning 87 per cent of votes in an election held two months after his crackpot predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, died suddenly in 2006.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) didn’t send observers into Turkmenistan during the polls, saying that being there wouldn’t "add value" given the limited freedoms and the lack of political competition in the country.

According to the Turkmen election commission, official turnout among the 2.9 million registered voters was 96.7 percent. "This speaks of the nation's cohesion," Orazmurad Niyazlyev, chairman of the Central Election Commission, told reporters.

But one voter in Lebap Province told Radio Free Europe news service, “I voted for our current president, Gurbanguly. There is no other candidate.”

Illustrating the lack of democratic reform since Berdymuhammedov has been in office, the voter went on to say, "I saw one individual voting on behalf of his entire family. It’s not something new. I haven’t seen any other irregularities. Compared to previous elections, the organisation was better. A concert is taking place in the polling station where I voted, shopping kiosks are installed, medical professionals are on duty, and police inspectors are monitoring.”

Shary, a 20-year-old taxi driver, told Reuters that he did not need to visit a polling station because election officials would bring a ballot box to his home. "They will come with a ballot box and I will vote, although nothing depends on me," he said.

When Berdymuhammedov came to power five years ago, he promised to improve living standards in the country, loosen the strict controls over society put in place by Niyazov, and allow the registration of political parties other than his Democratic Party of Turkmenistan. He has not delivered on those promises and, while not as eccentric as his predecessor – who renamed the months of the year and replaced textbooks in schools with his own personal philosophy, the Ruhnama – he has made himself prime minister and commander of the armed forces, and given himself the title "Hero of Turkmenistan".

International rights groups say there is little evidence that Turkmenistan is improving its human rights record. Two days before the election, Amnesty International said it was concerned about torture and ill treatment in Turkmen prisons, as well as "severe restrictions" on freedom of movement and expression, political activism and faith.

"Turkmenistan remains closed to international scrutiny by choice," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia deputy programme director.

And according to a press freedom index compiled by Reporters without Borders, only North Korea and Eritrea have tighter controls over information than Turkmenistan.

Ruled with an iron fist for more than 20 years, the only area where Turkmenistan has become more open is business. Where Niyazov isolated Turkmenistan, Berdymuhammedov has extended his hand to foreign governments and promised economic reforms.

Turkmenistan has four per cent of the world’s gas reserves and international energy companies are grappling to get their hands on it. Keen to develop a wide range of customers and to attract investment, Berdymuhamedov has cautiously courted companies in the EU, US and China. But China is winning the race, probably because it doesn’t care about human rights. Since Berdymuhamedov came to power China has invested $8 billion to help Turkmenistan develop its energy sector and built a 2,000-km (1,250-mile) pipeline to its border.

In the meantime, Berdymuhammedov has left Europe dangling over the proposed Nabucco pipeline. The pipeline, which if built would supply gas to Europe bypassing Russia, cannot go ahead unless there is enough gas to fill it. While Azerbaijan has agreed to meet some of the demand, the EU needs Turkmenistan’s reserves to make the project viable. Last year, Turkmenistan started building a $2 billion, 1,000-km East-West pipeline from South-Iolotan to the Caspian to be able to feed the Nabucco project, but pinning him down on a supply deal has been difficult. The last positive talks on Nabucco were held last October, but while the Turkmen President stated, "Today we get down to work on the contractual and legal basis for supplying Turkmen energy to Europe”, little has been said or done since.

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