Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Turkmenistan: Former Soviet Republic (part 2 of 2)

Continued from Part 1
Coat of Arms of the Turkmenistan
Soviet Socialist Republic
Part II
Although the constitution declares the country to be a secular democracy and presidential republic, Turkmenistan is an authoritarian state that was dominated by its first president, Saparmyrat Niyazov, who retained his monopoly on political power until his death on December 21, 2006. The Halk Maslahaty (People's Council) decided on December 26 to select Niyazov's successor through public elections on February 11, 2007. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov became president through a public election in which the population eagerly participated, even though the election did not meet international standards.
Government efforts continue to focus on fostering centralized state control. The president controls the parliament and the judiciary. The civilian authorities maintain effective control of the security forces. Neither independent political activity nor opposition candidates are allowed in Turkmenistan. The Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (DPT) is the only legal political party. Political gatherings are illegal unless government-sanctioned, and the citizens of Turkmenistan do not have the means to change their government democratically.
On November 25, 2002, an armed attack against then-President Niyazov's motorcade occurred, and the Government of Turkmenistan moved quickly against perceived sources of opposition. There were widespread reports of human rights abuses committed by officials investigating the attack, including torture and punishment of families of the accused. The Government of Turkmenistan denied the charges, but refused to allow independent observers at trials, to accept a mandatory Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) fact-finding mission, or to permit the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to prisons. It also instituted new measures to stifle dissent and limit contact with the outside world.
While the constitution provides for freedom of the press, there is virtually no freedom of the press or of association. The government has full control of all domestic media and restricts foreign publications. International satellite TV is widely available.
The population is 89% Sunni Muslim. The constitution provides for freedom of religion and does not establish a state religion; however, in practice, the government continues to monitor all forms of religious expression. Amendments to the law on religious organizations adopted in March 2004 reduced membership requirements from 500 to 5 for registration purposes. All groups must register in order to gain legal status with the government. Until 2004 the only religions that were registered successfully were Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodox Christianity. As of August 2010, 11 other religious groups were registered. The government limits the activities of unregistered religious congregations by prohibiting them from gathering publicly, proselytizing, and disseminating religious materials.
The government has started to review and rewrite its legislation with the stated goal of meeting international standards, including the criminal and criminal procedures codes and laws on religion and assembly. In late September 2008, a revised national constitution was adopted. It included provisions for a strengthened and enlarged Mejlis (parliament), eliminated many of former President Niyazov's arbitrary addenda, and contained some rights-related textual changes the international community had suggested. Most notably, it eliminated the Halk Maslahaty (Peoples Council), an oversized, bureaucratic, and largely rubber-stamp body whose powers have largely been transferred to the Mejlis.
Flag of Turkmenistan
A legacy of a Soviet-style command economy greatly limits equality of opportunity. Industry is almost entirely dominated by government or government-owned entities. Services are now largely in the private sector. Agriculture is dominated by a state order system, mainly for wheat and cotton, although about 50% of food production is in private hands.
In 2007, a law on state guarantees of the equal rights of women was adopted. Nonetheless, women continue to face discrimination, and their freedom is further restricted due to traditional socio-religious norms. All citizens are required to carry internal passports, noting place of residence. In July 2007, the government rescinded the requirement for citizens to acquire visas for travel to border areas.
Corruption is pervasive. Power is concentrated in the president. The judiciary is subservient to the president, with all judges appointed for 5-year terms by the president without legislative review.

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