Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 3

On December 28, 1999, President Saparmurat Niazov of Turkmenistan had himself appointed “leader and president for life” by the country’s parliament. The legislature, whose fifty members are for all intents and purposes the president’s nominees, passed unanimously a constitutional law which extends Niazov’s presidential term indefinitely. The decision technically conforms with a preexisting constitutional provision which authorizes an indefinite extension of the president’s term of office, provided that the president has been elected to that office by a nationwide vote.

The parliament acted on a proposal by the People’s Council, a body chaired by Niazov and comprised of officials of the three branches of power and other notables. Notionally the highest representative body in the country, the People’s Council has the right of legislative initiative, but not the power to pass laws. On December 29, Niazov took the oath of office before the People’s Council and the Elders’ Congress in joint session.

Niazov, 59, has headed the republic since 1985 when he became first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Turkmenistan. Elected president of the Turkmen SSR in 1990 with 98 percent of the vote in an unopposed race, Niazov had his term extended in national referenda in 1992 and again in 1994; in the latter case, a purported majority of 99 percent of the voters approved an extension of Niazov’s term of office until 2003.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United States government, in parallel statements, deplored the decision in Ashgabat as violating the right of citizens in any country to elect their leaders in regular, free and fair elections. OSCE Chairman-in-office Knut Vollebaek and the U.S. State Department held Turkmenistan to be defaulting on its obligations to abide by internationally recognized democratic norms. Niazov, apparently anticipating those objections, cited Turkmenistan’s “specific conditions” in his addresses to the parliament and the People’s Council (Turkmen Television, December 27-29; AFP, December 30, 1999).