Turkmenistan's president Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov holds his credentials during his inauguration ceremony as President, in Ashgabad, on February 14, 2017
Turkmenistan’s presidential election was held on February 12, 2017, but it is interesting that almost everyone knew that Berdimuhamedov would be the Turkmen President for the third time. Websites critical of the Turkmen government carried out polls in the last days before the election, and even some Turkmen virtual networks engaged in hot discussions about the fate of elections. However, the basic premise of all these events was that Berdimuhamedov was the definite winner of the election. The day after the elections, the official announcement of results showed Berdimuhamedov won the election (97.69 percent of votes), and the international observers present in this state confirmed that “Turkmenistan’s presidential elections were transparent and democratic.” This version of the political climate in Turkmenistan, more than anything, represents the “easy yet difficult to imitate” feature of the society and culture of this state, but in fact, what are the political culture variables influencing the political developments in Turkmenistan?
Among the newly independent states of Central Asia and the Caucasus, Turkmenistan is one of the few states which have not faced any major political instability and unrest in their independent political life. Even the transfer of power after the sudden death of Saparmurat Niyazov took place gently, despite various violations of the Constitution.
A deeper and more fundamental approach shows that the political culture rooted in the tribal social structure can be seen as one of the influential reasons for the stability of governments and political roles in Turkmenistan. In other words, the embodiment and influence of a kind of “subject political culture” (as opposed to the participant political culture) in the form of “tribal political culture” have turned the Turkmen society to passivity in the face of political power, and thus, have led to political stability and a stable government in this state. Inaction against the government and political roles is crystallized in the most objective situation in the form of the continuing power of rulers and even the lifelong rule of political leaders and presidents of the region.
According to the latest research on theories of political culture, variables such as “tolerance”, “attachment and loyalty”, “justice seeking”, “political beliefs”, “political passions”, “knowledge of structures”, “knowing elites”, “understanding the concepts”, and “being familiar with historical events” should be studied, but a detailed discussion on them all requires more space and time. Now based on previous studies on the political culture of Turkmenistan, the following features can be stated:
1. On the “political values” and under the variable of “tolerance”, the Turkmen society is a clear example of the absence or severe weakness of related indicators such as freedom, political activities and equality seeking. In addition to the explicit references visible in interviews with experts and ordinary people, the behaviors of leaders and political elites clearly bring such a judgment to the mind. On the variable of justice seeking, whether representing procedural or distributive form, as already mentioned, not only the justice-seeking behavior is not seen in the social interactions of the residents of Turkmenistan, but also it seems that the belief in the justice-seeking behavior is very fragile and flexible in the mental system of the Turkmen people.
2. The unquestioning compliance with the authority is the easy yet difficult to imitate feature of the political culture in Turkmenistan. It seems easy because when confronting with a discriminatory situation and the violation of freedom, the behavior expected of a Turkmen citizen is often compliance which can be easily seen, but ‘yet difficult to imitate’ aspect of it is because this compliance is also based on accepting and knowing the discriminator is right. In interviews and observations, on the issue that when government officials request bribes, and discriminate against people in the implementation of regulations with regard to being attributed to a particular tribe or being associated with some level of the hierarchy of power, no question often comes to people’s mind that why they behave like this. It seems that the victims of this behavior evaluate those responsible for the behavior as having the most common and natural behavior.
The most telling story about the political life and the underlying layers of the society of Turkmenistan is told by one of Turkmen students, on the condition of anonymity, a few days before the elections in response to a foreign correspondent: “We all know who will win the election, and in fact I will also vote for that candidate, but if he does not win, he will certainly remain my permanent champion and the eternal legend for my generation.”
Behrouz Ghezel, a PhD candidate in Central Asia and Caucasus Studies at University of Tehran, is the fellow at IRAS.
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