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26 Dec, 2006 09:14

Presidential elections in Turkmenistan set for February 11

Presidential elections in Turkmenistan set for February 11

In Turkmenistan – the country's highest legislative body – the so-called Turkmen Assembly – has set the 11th of February as the date for Presidential elections, according to news agency reports.  

Acting president Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has been asked to chair the session.

He could be named the main candidate for the presidency.

Russia's RIA Novosti news agency quotes a government source in Turkmenistan as saying the election could take place on February 19th – the country's former leader Saparmurat Niyazov's birthday.

Meanwhile, the opposition has put forward their candidate for the post – the country's former deputy prime minister.

Turkmenistan ventures into unknown territory – it's faced with a decision it has  never had to make before – democratically choosing a president.

And who can replace the Mr Niyazov who was not only president, but the head of Turkmenistan's highest legislative body – The People's Council, the Prime Minister, Commander-in-Chief, and the head of the only political party , a man who ruled with an iron fist for 21 years, banning everything from the opera to make – up, and of course, the opposition.

Niyazov's sudden death leaves the nation at a loss -  some experts believe a power struggle is inevitable.

The opposition – those that aren't in jail, but in exile – has vowed to return to Turkmenistan and announced it's going to back a single candidate for the post of president.

We appeal to them (democratic countries) that they assist in providing open and democratic presidential elections with participation of international observers, and that the opposition could take part. One may say that we have found our position and will put forward our single candidate.” Nurmukhammed Khanamov, chairman of the Republican Party of Turkmenistan said.

Security service leaders reportedly back the acting president Berdymukhamedov, and many say he could be named the main candidate for the post, even though according to the constitution, he can't run in the election.

But the constitution has already been disregarded in some respects – it also states that the speaker – automatically becomes acting president.

The speaker, however, was accused of corruption and removed from the post days before Niyazov's death was announced. This kind of practice was favoured by Niyazov when replacing cabinet members.

Another constitutional problem the country faces – there's no legislation for presidential election procedures – in the country's 15 years of independence, its never been needed because Niyazov was named president-for-life.

The international press is putting forward some other names for the candidacy – the British newspaper the Times names Murad Niyazov, the late president's son, and Akmurad Pezhepov, the head of the Security Service as two people who could be selected to succeed Niyazov.

Political analysts meanwhile say the decision's already been made – Berdymukhamedov will be president, and the election will just be a formality.

Rustem Safronov, political commentator of Russia Today said that “some sort of a list with candidates is probably already prepared, very likely with Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov himself in it. The people in power in Turkmenistan are interested in stability. They wouldn’t like any members of the opposition to take part in the elections.”

Imitation or no imitation, an election will be held, though with no legal voting procedure. Turkmenistan will leave the world guessing its future until there's a concrete result.