Turkmenistan. According to Countryaah, President Gurbanguli Berdimuchammedov tried to present Turkmenistan as a country on the path to democracy, but the outside world saw most cosmetic changes. At the end of the New Year, a new law was issued prohibiting censorship and a formal permit for press freedom, but the state’s control of the media continued with the president as co-owner of the major newspapers.
However, since last year, the country had a second party alongside the ruling Turkmenistan Democratic Party. It was the Party for Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, who in a filling election in June got their leader in parliament. It was the first time a member who did not belong to the ruling party was elected to Parliament.
During the year it was announced that the country’s schools no longer have to use the former dictator Saparmurat Nijazov’s spiritual writing in teaching. Reading the strange Ruhnama (“The Book of the Soul”) used to be crucial for graduating, getting a state job or taking a driver’s license. Then the status of the book dropped, and now it would be replaced in the teaching of literature on different cultures in the world.
When President Berdimuchammedov came to power, he gave the impression of wanting to dismantle much of the personal cult his representatives built up, but during the year he appeared in a number of contexts which showed that he himself seemed to create a similar eccentric image. TV showed him on watercraft, in sports car, playing guitar and performing surgery. His books on medicine and horses also received much attention.
When Berdimuchammedov took part in a horse race at the annual party in April in honor of the famous Achalteke horses, it was nearing a catastrophe. The president’s horse, of course, won but threw after the finish of the rider, who with little margin managed to be trampled down by other galloping horses. The president was taken away by ambulance but returned, apparently unscathed. Foreign journalists invited to view the president’s skill as a horse man were invited to erase their films of the incident. But everyone did not obey the call.
During the year, the president decided that a monument should be built for his representative Nijazov’s favorite horse, Glowing Mountain, which has been depicted in Turkmenistan’s state arms before. A reader of the independent website Krono wondered why nothing is being done to honor the victims of Nijazov’s repression.
The President ordered government employees and students to engage in mass gymnastics during the week of Health and Happiness. He also decided during the year on a four-year state program to develop cycling in the country. In August, government employees and students were ordered out on bicycles, and when the president “won” a bicycle race, the entire population was invited to buy bicycles for a mass cycling in September for health and the environment.
In October, the president handed out huge cash prizes in an annual competition for artists, writers and amateur singers, and most of the awards went to those who sang the president’s praise. Poets and pop singers described him as the Protector, the most common epithet, or the Great Leader.
At the same time as sneaky scenes revealed how the president scolded and humiliated, he declared in July that the closest employees achieved excellent results during the first half of the year and were worth ten days off. In previous years he has distributed expensive cars in similar ways, while most of the residents of the gas-rich country live in poverty.
The president announced the parliamentary elections for the two parties until December, declaring that politicians and officials should not be members of the ruling party. He himself announced his resignation from the Turkmenistan Democratic Party.
In the election, the ruling Democratic Party took 47 out of 125 seats, and the other allowed party got 14. The rest went to the regime’s various support groups. The opposition was forbidden to participate, and its leaders lived in exile. According to Amnesty, the election did not change the regime’s “total repression”.