Turkmenistan’s autocratic presidential elections

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Turkmenistan’s parliament set a date for the presidential elections in the nation widely regarded as the world’s second most isolated state after North Korea, with no free media. For the first time in its history, opposition parties can field candidates for the first time.

Authorities in the bizarrely secretive and oppressive nation approved two nominal opposition parties-the Agrarian Party and the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs to run for presidency, but they are seen as subservient to the ruling party with no chance at the polls.

The decision of the parliament came a month after the constitution was amended to remove age limits for the presidency, effectively allowing incumbent President Gurbanjuly Berdymukhamedov to remain president for life.

The February 12  election is unlikely to present real competition for autocratic President Berdymukhamedov, who has ruled Turkmenistan for a decade and established a personality cult nearly as pervasive as that of his eccentric predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov.

Berdymukhamedov started out as a dentist, before becoming health minister under his predecessor Niyazov, who was famous for renaming the months of the year after himself and his mother, and erecting a gold statue of himself that rotated to face the sun.

Shortly after Niyazov’s death, Berdymukhamedov dismantled his personality cult and embarked on liberalisation of Turkmenistan, but in time he simply began building his own cult.

The constitutional changes also extended presidential terms to seven years from the current five. The president is expected to win by a crushing majority.

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