Turkmenistan’s constitution amended

Turkmenistan's top legislative body, the People's Council, has amended the constitution, allowing the acting head of state to run for president. It has also decided to continue the policies of late president Saparmurat Niyazov.

The constitution originally stated that in case of the president's death, the speaker will automatically become acting head of state. Instead, the deputy prime minister was appointed and the constitution has now been amended to make this a legal process. 

The constitution had also contained no legislation on presidential election procedures, but corresponding changes were proposed and electoral law adopted. 

The original bill was drafted in 2005 but never taken up: Mr Niyazov was president for life, and the council refused to even discuss it.

So while the old constitution banned an acting president for running in an election, the amended version allows it.

Thus deputy prime minister Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov gets the chance to run for president.

Mr Berdymukhamedov is one of the six names put forward by the Council for the post but he is the only one the Council approved unanimously. 

He has pledged to continue the late president's course on domestic and foreign fronts – that includes free gas and water, and low petrol prices and a foreign policy of neutrality. 

The acting head of state has also promised the polls will be held on a democratic basis as had been laid down by Saparmurat Niyazov – though what exactly that means no one is quite sure.

The late president – ruling with an iron fist for 21 years – was constantly criticised by the West for human rights violations and running the country undemocratically. Any opposition was in jail or exile – the parliament has one political party, of which Mr Niyazov himself had been the leader. 

The exiled opposition – vowing to return to Turkmenistan to run in the election – hasn't succeeded in doing so. Although it has submitted a single candidate for the post of president, his name is not among the six nominated by the Council. 

Meanwhile, the election is set for February 11, 2007.