Leader Spotlight: Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow

Name: Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow

Country: Republic of Turkmenistan

Title: President

Party: TDP (Democratic Party of Turkmenistan)

Ideology: Turkmen nationalism, Secularism, Authoritarianism

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Rise to power: Born in 1957, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow is the son of a former government minister and retired colonel. A dentist by training, he worked in medicine for years, also serving as the head of the dentistry center of the Turkmen Ministry of Health in 1995. It wasn’t until 2001 that Berdimuhamedow stepped into his first major government position when he was appointed Minister of Health and came to take on a more public persona. It wasn't until 2007, after a lengthy government career, that Berdimuhamedow assumed the role of president. Following the sudden death of former President Saparmurat Niyazov, it was Berdimuhamedow who stepped in as acting president; the position would have gone to Owezgeldi Atayew, chairman of the representative body of power known as the People’s Council, as dictated by the Turkmen Constitution, however, Atayew was stripped of his position after being investigated for criminal activity. After Berdimuhamedow successfully defended his role of acting president from his political competition, the People’s Council voted to amend the constitution to let acting presidents run for the presidency in 2007. It was after this significant political development that Berdimuhamedow was able to secure his long standing position as president, as he ran in Turkmenistan's first elections and won. He was re-elected to a second term in 2012 with roughly 97% of the vote, and was similarly re-elected with 97.69% of the vote in the nation’s 2017 elections.

Three Recent Policy Issues:

  • Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Pipeline (TAPI): Turkmenistan is currently in the process of constructing the TAPI gas pipeline, a multi-billion dollar project envisioned by President Berdimuhamedow as a potentially revolutionary development for Turkmenistan’s energy industry. The pipeline is intended to stretch from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, supplying the latter nations with up to 33 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year. The project is significant as an opportunity for Turkmenistan to expand its trade relations within the region and to significantly boost its national revenues from the sale of natural gas; Turkmenistan is home to Galkynysh, the second-largest gas field in the world, but due to infrastructure and the current state of development, the country can only primarily export to China. The TAPI, if successfully completed, would allow Turkmenistan to drastically increase its market and trade with other major powers in the Asian continent. Currently, construction of the Turkmen sector of the pipeline has been ongoing since 2015, and construction in Afghanistan began in 2018. Recently however, there have been no shortage of troubles for the project; the pipeline passes through Kandahar province in Afghanistan where construction has been met with serious security concerns due to resistance from Taliban fighters. In May 2018, six sappers working on the project were killed by Taliban militants.

Leaders participate in the Groundbreaking Ceremony of the TAPI Gas Pipeline Project in 2015

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

  • Constitutional Amendments: President Berdimuhamedow has implemented a range of constitutional changes over the course of his time in office. Most notably, he approved a range of constitutional changes in 2016 which removed the upper age limit of 70 for presidential candidates, allowing him to hypothetically keep his presidential seat until his death. He also extended presidential terms from 5 to 7 years.

  • ​Energy Subsidies for Citizens: Originally instituted by former President Niyazov in 1993, the Turkmen government offered its citizens significant energy, gas, and water subsidies, allowing the general population to enjoy easy access to the resources of the energy-rich nation. In 2014, however, these policies were brought to an end by President Berdimuhamedow who argued that he envisioned a more sustainable and rational energy policy in the country’s future.

Most Notable Accomplishment: In 2015, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow had an impressive monument erected in the capital city of Ashgabat, featuring a golden statue of himself riding a horse.

President Berdimuhamedow pictured on horseback

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Most Infamous Position: President Berdimuhamedow’s time in office has been marred with severe human rights concerns, as Turkmenistan has become one of the most authoritarian and isolated nations in the world. According to the Human Rights Watch report on Turkmenistan in 2017, the Turkmen government exercises strict control over all media, with all foreign or dissenting outlets facing harsh crackdowns. Additionally, the regime has strict restrictions against any activist organizations, including requiring any NGOs to obtain government approval to operate within the nation's borders. This had led to a culture of oppression and silencing in Turkmenistan, with most activists having to operate in-exile.

Interesting Facts:

  • Berdimuhamedow once served as the former President Niyazov’s personal dentist.

  • The President is an avid and talented musician and frequently participates in musical performances, where he often appears alongside members of his family.

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