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Turkmenistan - Government

In May 1992, Turkmenistan became the first newly independent republic in Central Asia to ratify a constitution. According to the constitution and to literature printed by the government, Turkmenistan is a democratic, secular, constitutional republic based on law and headed by a president. It is also termed a "presidential republic," one that is "based on the principles of the separation of powers--legislative, executive, and judicial--which operate independently, checking and balancing one another."

The principle of separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judiciary is enshrined in the Constitution, but the president is granted extensive powers, including the right to form and preside over the Cabinet of Ministers, to appoint and dismiss governors of regions, heads of cities and districts, all judges of the Supreme Court and of other courts, as well as the members of the Central Commission for Elections and Referenda (CEC).

The 2008 constitution gave broader powers to the Mejlis (parliament), increased the president’s powers, and abolished the Halk Maslahaty (People’s Council) as a political body. In May the Mejlis revised the Law on Presidential Elections, which reduced the number of requirements for the registration of candidates.

On September 14, 2016, Turkmenistan’s legislature approved amendments to the country’s Constitution. The change will permit the current President, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, to remain in office indefinitely if he continues to win elections. The 2016 Constitution removed the 70-year age limit for presidential candidates and extended the term from five to seven years. The 2013 Election Code was amended twice after its adoption, most recently in November 2016. Changes in the Election Code, among others, excluded the possibility for public associations to nominate presidential candidates and established permanent status of the election commissions at all levels for a period of five years.

The revised 2016 Constitution defines the country as neutral, independent, secular, and democratic, but the principle of neutrality in foreign affairs is now stated in a separate article. This neutrality has been described in one commentary as including “peaceful initiatives; good neighbourliness [sic], non-interference in matters of other states, unambiguous support for non-use of force; non-alignment with any military blocs; and development of friendly relations with all countries of the world.”

The government of Turkmenistan is divided into three branches--the executive branch headed by the president, the legislative branch consisting of the National Assembly (Milli Majlis), and the judicial branch embodied in the Supreme Court. A People's Council nominally has the ultimate power to oversee the three branches. A Council of Elders exists as an advisory body to the government, everyday affairs of which are conducted by a Cabinet of Ministers appointed by the president.

The office of president (türkmenbashi, "Leader of the Turkmen") was established in conjunction with the ratification of the 1992 constitution. The president functions as head of state and government and as commander in chief of the armed forces, serving for an elected term of five years. Presidential powers include the right to issue edicts having the force of law, to appoint and remove state prosecutors and judges, and to discontinue the National Assembly if it has passed two no-confidence votes on the sitting government (Cabinet) within an eighteen-month period. The government is administered by the Cabinet of Ministers, who are appointed by the president with National Assembly approval.

After his appointment as president of the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic in October 1990, Niyazov ran as an uncontested candidate in the republic's first presidential election in June 1991, winning over 99 percent of the vote. From that position, he presided over the declaration of independence in October 1991. The 1992 constitution of the independent Republic of Turkmenistan called for a new presidential election, which Niyazov won in June 1992.

In January 1994, a referendum extended his presidency from a five-year term to a ten-year term that would end in the year 2002; of the 99 percent of the electorate that voted, officially only 212 voted against the extension. On December 28, 1999, Niyazov's term was extended indefinitely by the Majlis (parliament), which itself had taken office only a week earlier in flawed elections that included only candidates hand-picked by President Niyazov.

Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov first came into power in 2007. On February 12, 2012 President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov was re-elected for a second term. In early 2016 amendments were introduced to the constitution that would allow Berdymukhammedov to run for a third term in office in next year’s election, and possibly stay on far longer than just this one additional term.

Turkmenistan’s authoritarian leader paved the way for potential lifelong rule, signing off on constitutional amendments that will allow him to run in future presidential elections regardless of his age. The amendments, signed by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov 14 September 2016 after approval by the rubber-stamp parliament and the Council of Elders, scrapped a rule that barred anyone over the age of 70 from presidential ballots in the tightly controlled Central Asian country. They also extended future presidential terms to seven years from the current five.

The 1992 constitution provided for a legislative body called the National Assembly, a body that retains the structure and procedures of the Soviet-era Supreme Soviet. The body's fifty members are elected directly to five-year terms, and they are prohibited from holding other offices during their tenure. The National Assembly is charged with the enactment of criminal legislation and approving amendments to the constitution. It also ratifies legislative bills introduced by the president, the Cabinet of Ministers, and individual members of the National Assembly.

On 25 September 2020, the People’s Council (Halk Maslahaty) approved the amendments and additions to the constitution that converted the Parliament into a bicameral parliamentary system. In accordance with constitutional law, the People’s Council approved the removal of one article, added three articles, and amended and included additions to 27 articles of the constitution. When the changes are implemented, the bicameral Parliament (Milli Genesh) will consist of the Halk Maslahaty (People’s Council, the higher house) and the Mejlis (Parliament, the lower house). The Halk Maslahaty will consist of 56 members (eight representatives from each province and Ashgabat, and eight representatives to be appointed by the president). The Mejlis will consist of 125 members.

Turkmen law provided that legislative initiatives may come from various sources including the president, members of parliament, ministers and those that work in the ministries, NGOs, and citizens. Alternatively, a parliamentary committee chairman can create a working group or a commission to draft a law. In practice, however, the Turkmen president exercises full control over all parliamentary affairs, including initiating new laws.

According to the official process, once a new law is drafted, an authorized person, usually a member of parliament, can put it forward for voting. The drafts must be checked to make sure they do not conflict with any current regulations. Staffers on the parliamentary committee or within the presidential administration usually conduct that review. When alternate drafts of the same law are proposed, the parliament has to decide which of the versions will be put forward. After the Mejlis has passed a draft law, the president signs it, and it is then published in the local press.

Lawmaking in Turkmenistan is theoretically designed to involve as many different layers of the government and community as possible. Discussions on the law are supposed to be held openly in the parliament and mass media, according to an article published recently in the state-run newspaper "Neytralniy Turkmenistan." In practice, however, new laws are often not discussed until after they have been passed.

Established by the 1992 constitution, the Supreme Court comprised twenty-two judges appointed by the president to five-year terms. Of the three branches of government, the judiciary has the fewest powers; its prescribed functions are limited to review of laws for constitutionality and decisions concerning the judicial codex or Supreme Law.

The 1992 constitution also established the National Council (Halk Maslahati) to serve as "the highest representative organ of popular power." Intended to unite the three branches of government, it comprises the president of Turkmenistan; the deputies of the National Assembly; members of the Supreme Court, the Cabinet of Ministers, and the Supreme Economic Court; sixty people's representatives elected from the districts specifically to the National Council; and officials from scientific and cultural organizations. The now-disbanded Halk Maslahaty (People's Council) selected six candidates for the February 2007 presidential election, all from the Democratic Party, the country's only political party.

Members of the National Council served for five years without compensation. This body met at the request of the president or the National Assembly, or when mandated by a one-third vote of its members. Functions of the National Council included advising the president, recommending domestic and foreign policy, amending the constitution and other laws, ratifying treaties, and declaring war and peace. In theory, its powers superseded those of the president, the National Assembly, and the Supreme Court. However, the council was described as a kind of "super-congress of prominent people" that rubber-stamped decisions made by the other national bodies, in most cases the executive.

In addition, the constitution created the Council of Elders, which is designed to embody the Turkmen tradition of reliance on the advice of senior members of society in matters of importance. According to the constitution, the president is bound to consult with this body prior to making decisions on both domestic and foreign affairs. The Council of Elders also is assigned the task of selecting presidential candidates. Its chairman is the president of Turkmenistan.

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Page last modified: 21-03-2022 10:29:21 ZULU