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Turkmenistan gets a second political party

August 22, 2012 | 12:50 pm

Turkmenistan now has its second political party, ending the official monopoly of its Democratic Party of Turkmenistan. State media heralded the step as a “historic event” for the country.

But many critics and outsiders are dubious the new party will actually challenge the vast powers of President Gurbanguly Berdimukhamedov,who took office after his predecessor's death in 2006.

State media reported the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs had become possible after a new law allowed more parties to be formed. The fledgling party met Tuesday to approve its charter and choose top officials, the state news agency reported. It came into being after the recently reelected president had urged that new parties be formed “to democratize society.”

Ending its decades under a single political party is seen as one sign that Berdimukhamedov is seeking to ease Turkmenistan's international isolation and win foreign investment for the energy-rich state. The country became infamous for authoritarian rule under its last president, Saparmurat Niyazov, who declared himself president for life and made his writings mandatory reading in schools.

But the law allowing new political parties appears to cut out any existing opposition movements by requiring that they be located solely within Turkmenistan, according to the Agence France-Presse. One dissident group operating in exile, the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, reported that “a close friend of the Turkmen president … was assigned to establish the party.”

Simply having competitors has not guaranteed a vigorous political showdown in Turkmenistan in the past: Berdimukhamedov won reelection this year with 97% of the vote, besting opponents from his own party, several of whom reportedly encouraged people to vote for him.

Human rights groups say despite gestures toward more openness, abuses have continued under Berdimukhamedov, who “has maintained all the means and patterns of repression established by Niyazov,” according to the free speech organization Freedom House.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

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