The government of Turkmenistan has been described as a Stalinist autocracy. The old Soviet-era Communist Party apparatus and bureaucracy remains in place. Democracy doesn't exist. Independence in was supposed to give way to democracy. Instead it has given way one man rule. The Turkmenistan constitution stipulates democratic separation of powers, but the presidency is the sole center of actual power. Turkmen have no tradition of democracy.

Turkmenistan defines itself as a secular democracy and a presidential republic; in actuality it displays authoritarian presidential rule with power concentrated within the presidential administration. Turkmenistan’s date of independence is recognized as October 27, 1991, the day when a national referendum called for Turkmenistan to leave the Soviet Union. The government has received substantial international criticism as an authoritarian regime centering on the dominant power position of the president. Nevertheless, the 1992 constitution does characterize Turkmenistan as a democracy with separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.[Source: CIA World Factbook, = Library of Congress *]

Turkmenistan’s three government branches are supposed to be independent. However, after winning an uncontested presidential election in 1992 President Saparmurad Niyazov effectively dominated governance in all branches and at all levels until his death in late 2006. Political opposition reportedly is nearly non-existent. Harsh, arbitrary punishment of administrative “mistakes” and unforeseen shifts in top government positions have discouraged competent individuals from seeking government appointments. [Source: Library of Congress, February 2007]

The post-Soviet government of the Republic of Turkmenistan retains many of the characteristics and the personnel of the communist regime of Soviet Turkmenistan. Many Soviet-era officials still in place in the 1990s. The Milli Mejlis, has same ratification functions as Soviet-era Supreme Soviet, whic means it is more or less a rubber-stamp body. The judiciary is very weak; judges are appointed by president; Supreme Court reviews constitutionality of legislation. The National Council is supposed to have advisory function, but actually is subsidiary to presidential power. *

Turkmenistan Flag, Names and National Anthem

Formal Name: Republic of Turkmenistan; Short Form: Turkmenistan; Term for Citizen(s): Turkmenistani (s). Noun for ethnic group:Turkmen, Plural: Turkmens. Adjective: Turkmen. Former name: Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic. Capital: Ashgabat (Ashkhabad). [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

The flag of Turkmenistan is the most intricate of all national flags. It has a green field with a vertical red stripe near the hoist side, containing five tribal guls (designs used in producing carpets) stacked above two crossed olive branches; five white stars and a white crescent moon appear in the upper corner of the field just to the fly side of the red stripe; the green color and crescent moon represent Islam; the five stars symbolize the regions or welayats of Turkmenistan; the guls reflect the national identity of Turkmenistan where carpet-making has long been a part of traditional nomadic life. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

National symbol(s): Akhal-Teke horse; national colors: green, white. The Turkmenistan national anthem: "Garassyz, Bitarap Turkmenistanyn" (Independent, Neutral, Turkmenistan State Anthem), with lyrics and music mainly by Veli Mukhatov — was adopted 1997. In 2008, following the death of President Saparmurat Niyazov, the lyrics were altered to eliminate references to him.

Governments in Central Asia

To varying degrees all the governments of Central Asia are authoritarian, with a strong president who possesses dictatorial powers and a largely rubber-stamp parliament. Many of these government are based on the Singapore or Pinochet model in which a strong economy is built with authoritarian leadership. With the exception of Kyrgyzstan democracy doesn't exist.

When independence was declared in 1991, none of the five republics had experienced an independence movement or had a corps of leaders who had considered how such a change might be managed. Five years after independence, in four of the states political leadership remained in the hands of the same individual as in the last years of the Soviet Union: Nursultan Nazarbayev in Kazakstan, Askar Akayev in Kyrgyzstan, Saparmyrat Niyazov in Turkmenistan, and Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan. President Imomali Rahmonov of Tajikistan was not president in 1991, but, like his cohorts, his roots were in his republic's pre-1992 political world. Political power in all five republics is based on clan and regional groupings that make national coalitions risky and fragile. Clan rivalries have played a particular role in the civil war of Tajikistan and in Akayev's difficulties in unifying Kyrgyzstan behind a reform program.* [Source: Glenn E. Curtis, Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Although all the republics had adopted new constitutions by 1995, the three government branches prescribed by those documents are severely imbalanced in favor of the executive. In all five cases, the political opposition of the early 1990s has been virtually extinguished in the name of preserving stability and preventing the putative onset of Islamic politicization. Although the new constitutions of the republics specify independent judicial branches, the concept of due process has not been established consistently anywhere.*

Lack of Democracy in Central Asia

Rulers in Central Asia have generally clung to power until they died or were forced out. There is not much of a tradition of democracy or democratic practices.

The Central Asian nations all have elections, legislatures, courts, laws and constitutions. Often they exist in name only. Decisions are made from the top, elections are rigged, courts and legislatures are filled with loyalists. KGB-like secret police continue to thrive.

One diplomat told the Washington Post that their goal in Central Asia was to teach that the presidents there that “winning the election with 60 percent of the vote is just as good as winning with 100 percent of the vote” but “they just can't internalize the point. They are complete control freaks.”

Turkmenistan Constitution and Citizenship

The Turkmenistan Constitution was adopted on May 18, 1992. Turkmenistan was 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."

According to the Turkmenistan Constitution, 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 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. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

The Turkmenistan Constitution was amended several times, the last time in 2008. Sources disagree on whether the changes in 2008 are amendments or reflect a new constitution.

Initially a People's Council nominally had the ultimate power to oversee the three branches of government . But it was abolished by a constitutional change in September 2008 and membership in the National Assembly expanded to 125 from 65. The powers formerly held by the People's Council were divided between the president and the National Assembly.

According to a law passed in December 1992, all permanent residents of Turkmenistan were accorded citizenship unless they renounce that right in writing. Non-residents were allowed to become citizens if they could demonstrate that they resided in Turkmenistan for the past seven years and that they had some knowledge of the Turkmen language. Dual citizenship with certain other former Soviet republics was permitted. The CIS summit held in Ashgabat in December 1993 resulted in an accord on dual citizenship between the Russian Federation and Turkmenistan, allowing Turkmenistan's 400,000 ethnic Russians to achieve that status. In 2003, the dual citizenship option was revoked. Niayzov abruptly abrogated the agreement obliging all holders of dual citizenships to choose one or the other within three months.

Head of Government and Executive Branch in Turkmenistan

The president of Turkmenistan is both chief of state and head of government and executive branch. President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow has been in power since February 14, 2007. The Cabinet of Ministers is appointed by the president. Elections for president are held every five years. The President is eligible to serve two five-year term but there is good chance this will be changed. The last election was held on February 12, 2012. The next one is scheduled to be held in February 2017. Results of the 2012 election; Berdimuhamedow reelected president; with 97.1 percent of the vote; Annageldi Yazmyradow 1.1 percent, other candidates 1.8 percent. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

The office of president 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. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Turkmenistan has had only two presidential election in its 20-year history as an independent with more than one candidate. The first was held in February 2007, less than two months after Niyazov’s death, and the second was in 2012. After Niyazov’s death, Berdymukhammedov was installed as acting president. Following a tweak to a constitutional provision banning an acting president from participating in a presidential election, Berdymukhammedov was allowed to run in the 2007 poll. He won by a landslide — garnering 89 percent of the vote — over a field of five other candidates. All, including Berdymukhammedov, belonged to the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan. [Source: Farangis Najibullah, Radio Free Europe, February 12, 2012]

Presidency of Turkmenistan Under Niyazov and After His Death

The rules about president elections and five year terms were largely ignored by Turkmenistan’s autocratic first President Saparmurat Niyazov, better known as Türkmenbashi , "Leader of the Turkmen". Niyazov had himself named "president for life" in 1999. The constitution of 1992 calls for the president to be elected directly to a maximum of two five-year terms. However, since the parliament named him president for life in 1999, Niyazov no longer was required to stand for re-election. He also sat as head of government (prime minister, heading the Council of Ministers), commander of the armed forces, and chairman of the parliament. Niyazov appointed all members of the Council of Ministers and national judiciary, as well as chief executives of local and regional jurisdictions. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Niyazov, who was president of the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic at the time of independence, is a Turkmen of the Teke tribe who was born in 1940. Trained as an engineer, Niyazov rose through the ranks of the Communist Party of Turkmenistan, reaching the top of the party hierarchy as first secretary in 1985. During his tenure, Niyazov remained aloof from glasnost and perestroika , the reforms of CPSU First Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev, even terming Gorbachev's program "pseudo-reform." When Moscow hard-liners attempted to unseat Gorbachev in the coup of August 1991, Niyazov refrained from condemning the conspiracy until after its failure was certain. *

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. *

Executive Branch and Presidency After Niyazov

The sudden death of Niyazov in December 2006 left no mechanism or viable candidates to replace a leader who for 15 years had monopolized every phase of executive power in his country’s government. However, an ad hoc constitutional amendment allowed Deputy Prime Minister Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, an obscure former dentist, to run in and win a special presidential election in February 2007. Akmurad Redzhepov, head of Niyazov’s security service, reportedly was the power behind the new regime. [Source: Library of Congress, February 2007 **]

In 2006 the Council of Ministers, which is entrusted with day-to-day governance, included 21 ministers and the chairman of the Central Bank. The only ministries with significant power were those of defense, national security, and justice, all of which are important instruments of domestic repression or national security. A Council of Elders, including representatives of Turkmenistan’s five tribal confederations, nominally provides advice to the president. [Source: Library of Congress, February 2007 **]

In 2009, two years after Berdymukhammedov tok power, Chary Ishaniyazov of Radio Free Europe wrote: “Turkmenistan is still a one-party system: the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, the successor to the Communist Party, is the only party in the country, and like all other public organizations it is controlled by the state. It is still not possible to form and legally register a political party, or even a nongovernmental organization, even though the constitutional amendments included an article giving citizens the right to found political parties and public organizations whose activities do not violate other provisions of the constitution.” [Source: Chary Ishaniyazov, Radio Free Europe, February 23, 2009]

Legislature of Turkmenistan

Legislature: the 125 -seat Majlis is a rubber stamp parliament set up by Niyazov. All the members are hand picked by the president and belong to the Democratic Party (the former Communist party), or one ofts affiliates. Parliament members generally run unopposed.

Legislative branch: unicameral National Assembly or Mejlis (125 seats; members directly elected in multi-seat constituencies by absolute majority vote in two rounds if needed; members serve 5-year terms). In September 2008, a constitutional change abolished a second, 2,507-member People's Council and expanded the membership in the National Assembly to 125 from 65. The the powers formerly held by the People's Council were divided between the president and the National Assembly. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Legislative elections: last held on December 15, 2013 (next to be held in December 2018).

Election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - Democratic Party 47, Organization of Trade and Unions of Turkmenistan 33, Women's Union of Turkmenistan 16, Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs 14, Magtymguly Youth Organization 8, independents 7. All of these parties support President Berdimuhamidow. =

The 1992 constitution provides the legal basis for National Assembly, which retains the structure and procedures of the Soviet-era Supreme Soviet. According to the constitution the body's members are prohibited from holding other offices during their tenure and 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. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

After the parliamentary elections of 1999, the Majlis (parliament) received nominal new powers, including a mandate to form committees examining a wide range of public policies. However, because all members of that body were from Niyazov’s party, this mandate was meaningless, and the Majlis has been a rubber-stamp body. One-party Majlis elections also were held in 2004. In 2003 an arbitrarily ratified constitutional amendment effectively replaced the Majlis as the chief legislative body with the Khalk Maslakhaty (National Council), a 2,507- member, unicameral body that previously had exercised vague executive, judicial, and legislative powers. Only 65 of that body’s members are popularly elected; the remainder are ex officio members or are appointed by the president, who also is presiding officer. The Khalk Maslakhaty, which now sits continuously, received the power to dissolve the Majlis and to make constitutional law. After the death of Niyazov, the Khalk Maslakhaty nominated the six candidates eligible for election as the new president. [Source: Library of Congress, February 2007 **]

National Council and Council of Elders

The 1992 constitution 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. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Members of the National Council serve for five years without compensation. This body meets 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 include 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 supersede those of the president, the National Assembly, and the Supreme Court. However, the council has been described as a kind of "super-congress of prominent people" that rubber-stamps 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.

Local Government and Bureaucracy in Turkmenistan

Local divisions: Turkmenistan is divided into five provinces, which in turn are divided into a total of 50 districts. The city of Ashgabat has the status of a province. The five provinces (oblasts or welayatlar, singular - welayat) are: 1) Ahal Welayaty (Anew) in the south; 2) Balkan Welayaty (Balkanabat) in the west; 3) Dashoguz Welayaty in the north; 4) Lebap Welayaty (Turkmenabat) in the east; 5) Mary Welayaty in the southeast. Administrative divisions have the same names as their administrative centers (exceptions have the administrative center name following in parentheses). [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Governors of the provinces are appointed by the president. District heads, known as “hekims”, are appointed by the governors. Local and provincial councils are elected directly. Although the districts send representatives to the Khalk Maslakhaty, they have no power because of the dominance of the president over that body. Continuing a long- standing trend of arbitrary dismissals, in 2006 President Niyazov replaced all five provincial governors, citing recent agricultural failures. [Source: Library of Congress, February 2007 **]

The old Soviet-era Communist Party bureaucracy remains in place. Niyazov micromanaged the entire government. He hired and fired bureaucrats on whims, made decisions on the fly and interrupted meetings to bawl out officials that yawned. Many good people were fired or demoted, leaving important jobs unoccupied or occupied by people that were loyal to Niyavov but otherwise were totally incompetent. Those that were competent were afraid to make decisions and endure Niyazov’s wrath.

Budget, Taxes and Welfare in Turkmenistan

Budget: revenues: $7.047 billion; expenditures: $6.699 billion (2014 est.). Taxes and other revenues: 16.2 percent of GDP (2014 est.), country comparison to the world: 194. Budget surplus (+) or deficit (-): 0.8 percent of GDP (2014 est.), country comparison to the world: 24. Fiscal year: calendar year. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Budget statistics are unreliable because the government spends large amounts of extra-budgetary funds. In 2004 official expenditures totaled US$3.05 billion, and revenues totaled US$3.05 billion, creating a balanced budget. The government also reported a roughly balanced budget for 2005, at an undisclosed level of revenue and expenditure. In an effort to increase revenues, the tax code was streamlined in 2004. [Source: Library of Congress, 2007 **]

In the post-Soviet era, the Niyazov government declared several large-scale increases in public welfare, and in 2006 the state budget continued providing heavy subsidies for basic services, goods, and utilities, although availability of many such goods and services was sporadic. The system also includes sickness and maternity benefits. In 2003 Turkmenistan broadened the coverage of its social security system, and in 2004 pensions and public-sector wages were increased by 50 percent. Although information about living standards is sparse and no official poverty line exists, some failures of the welfare system have been reported since 2000. Turkmenistan’s income inequality is the greatest among the Central Asian republics, with especially strong differences between urban and rural living standards. **

In 1992 Niyazov declared a “Ten Years of Prosperity” program, the goals of which were virtually free natural gas, electricity, and drinking water to all households in the republic and increased social benefits, minimum wages, and food subsidies. It aimed at giving families their own house, car, and telephone. In 1993 two-thirds of the state budgetary expenditures went toward such "social needs," and half of that amount for the subsidization of food prices. Social programs also accounted for 60 percent of the 1995 budget. The program was renewed for another 10 years in 2000. **

Turkmenistan Pension System

The state pension system nominally pays retirement pensions to men aged 62 or older who have worked for 25 years and to women aged 57 or older who have worked 20 years, with reduced eligibility requirements for work under hazardous conditions. The disabled and survivors of pension recipients also are eligible for pension coverage. [Source: Library of Congress, February 2007 **]

The pension system has two main types of expenditures: retirement and disability payments and children's payments. Employees pay 1 percent of their wages to their pension fund, and the employer's share totals 80.5 percent of the total payroll contribution. In industries, the payroll contribution is 37 percent of the total pension fund; in agricultural enterprises, it is 26 percent. Because pension fund expenditures always exceed their receipts at this ratio of contribution, additional funds are allotted from the state budget. The normal retirement age is sixty for men and fifty-five for women, but the age is five or ten years less for occupations classified as hazardous. In the early 1990s, the number of pensioners grew at a rate of 17,000 per year; in 1993 some 404,000 individuals were in this category. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In December 1994, President Niyazov issued an edict setting the minimum wage at 1,000 manat per month and the minimum old-age pension at up to 1,000 manat per month. Pensions set at 60 percent of wages will be given to men retiring at the age of sixty and women at the age of fifty-five if they have worked for twenty-five and twenty years, respectively. In 1995 pensions for invalids and war veterans were set at 3,000 manat per month. Pensions are indexed to increases in minimum wages and are funded by payroll taxes. Allowances are granted to households with children under age sixteen. Payments depend on the age of the children and the economic and marital status of their parents. In 1993 such payments ranged from 110 rubles to 270 rubles per month. That year payments were made for about 1.75 million children. Funding is from the general budget for children age six and older and from the pension fund for those younger than six.

Pensions are very small and often not paid even. Under Niyazov, pensions for 100,000 elderly citizens were summarily denied, one of his most unpopular decisions. One man told Paul Theroux: “The government has reduced the state pensions for some people. In some cases, these were people who were granted pensions by the Soviet government, but when Turkmenistan became independent these were eliminated...This situation is serious.” “You’re not getting your pension?” Theroux asked. “Many thousands of people are not getting it! They were workers. Now they’re old, and they have nothing to live on. This is a wealthy country, but they are poor. The government has done this to us.” [Source: Paul Theroux, The New Yorker, May 28, 2007 ~]

In March 2007, Berdymukhamedov reversed Niyazov’s decision and restored pensions to more than 100,000 elderly citizens. A new Code of Social Guarantees enacted at that time introduced state child and maternity benefits and increased payments to families of war veterans to one million manat ($40). [Source: BBC]

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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