Turkmen president takes job for life

By Anne Penketh, Diplomatic Editor
26 October 2004


Central Asia's most idiosyncratic dictator has
engineered a plan that will allow him to remain in
office for the rest of his life by dispensing with a
further presidential election.

In the past, Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat
Niyazov's decrees have outlawed gold teeth and renamed
the calendar so that the first month of the year bears
his official title, Turkmenbashi, or head of the
Turkmens. Yesterday, he asked parliament
disingenuously to hold presidential elections in 2009,
saying "When I turn 70, please release me. Younger
people will be ready. Nothing lasts for ever and the
destiny of a people must not depend on one person."

The hand-picked 2,000 members of parliament swiftly
came to the rescue, and pleaded with the President,
64, to reconsider. He had already been named president
for life in 1999, but later rejected that. It seems he
has now had second thoughts.

"You are given to us by God and therefore any talk
about presidential elections should be stopped," said
Murad Berdysopyyev, a senior member of the parliament,
or People's Council. A deputy, Muratbedry Sopyyev,
said: "This must not even be discussed. We elected you
for life. There is no alternative person. No, no and

The former Soviet republics of central Asia are all
ruled by ruthless neo-communist leaders who have
created personality cults around themselves and
stifled dissent. But President Niyazov, who has ruled
Turkmenistan since 1985, is the most bizarre of them

Mr Niyazov has spent lavishly on palaces and statues
of himself, while his people live in poverty. He has
had a meteorite named after him, banned make-up for TV
presenters and opened a medical centre for horses in a
country where many people are denied basic health

Yesterday, parliament awarded him the "Ruhnama" medal,
named after a book he wrote on moral guidance which is
compulsory reading in school and university exams and
driving tests. 


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