14 Helsinki Monitor 206 (2003)
Governance in Central Asia: The Case of Turkmenistan

handle is hein.journals/helsnk14 and id is 216 raw text is: Governance           in    Central Asia: The                 case     of
Turkmenistan
Bess Brown1
Authoritarianism in Central Asia
Encouraging democratization in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia has
proved to be one of the most difficult tasks undertaken by the international
community since these states gained their independence eleven years ago. In the
immediate aftermath of the breakup of the USSR, it appeared that the leaderships of
at least Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were committed to following a course of
political reform that would eventually result in these two countries adopting the
characteristics of democratic states. Tajikistan's development in all areas -
economic and social as well as political - was stunted by the five-year civil war.
The two countries that seemed least likely to move rapidly toward political reform
were Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, an expectation that has unfortunately proved
accurate.
By 2003 the hopes for relatively rapid democratization have been
disappointed throughout Central Asia. Not one of the states in the region has
discarded the authoritarianism that was imbibed from the Soviet system and that is
considered by the Central Asian rulers to be a necessary corollary to the process of
transition from a Soviet-style political and economic structure to a European-type
democratic and free-market one.
For all the rulers in the region, maintaining control is the top priority, usually
in the name of preventing economic and social upheaval during the transition
period. While all the Central Asian countries have had presidential elections since
they became independent, with the exception of Tajikistan there has been no
change at the top since 1990, at the latest. And Tajikistan's president is currently
attempting to change the country's Constitution to permit him at least one more
seven-year term. Whatever the justification they give publicly for wanting to
remain in office, none of them wants to give up power voluntarily, as the various
ways they have used to tamper with elections has demonstrated. Kyrgyzstan's
Askar Akaev, who seems to be trying to restore the perception of the international
community that he is truly committed to democratization, is reported to have said in
recent months that he would not care to run again. But against that assertion it is
necessary to consider how presidential elections have been conducted in
Kyrgyzstan, with credible challengers being denied the chance to run.
The failure to create a reliable mechanism for leadership change is only one
of the potential sources of instability arising from the reluctance of the Central
Asian leaderships to fully commit themselves to democratization, but it is likely to
be one of the most dangerous because of the potential for political and social chaos
when the current ruler departs the scene. But the country that is most likely to suffer
Bess Brown was Political Officer in the OSCE Centre in Ashgabat from January 1999 to
August 2002.

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