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Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov: the secret of political success

photo: turkmenportal.com
27 June 2022
Victoria MagdalaVictoria Magdala

Victoria Magdala

CISS expert

On June 29, the 6th Caspian summit will take place in Ashkhabad with participation of the heads of all the Caspian states. It will be the day for the ex-President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov to celebrate his 65th birthday. According to some regional experts, this is not just a coincidence. Let us remind here that the top-level meeting in the Caspian region was already shifted for one year due to COVID-19 pandemic, so it was scheduled for autumn. However, after the successful visit of the new President of Turkmenistan Serdar Berdimuhamedov, the summit was rescheduled for a new date. The leaders of the «Caspian five» countries (Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran and Turkmenistan) decided to make a symbolic present to «the birthday boy» in the form of the Caspian summit, to which Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov had been preparing for so long. In fact, this is a collective recognition of multi-year merits of one of the most successful politicians of the post-Soviet area.

It is reported that upon arrival to Ashkhabad on June 29, the RF President Vladimir Putin will visit the upper chamber of the parliament of Turkmenistan to bring his congratulations to its current chairman, the ex-President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.

Neutrality policy: new interpretation

Modern Turkmenistan as a successful state is to a great extent a political project of the «birthday boy». Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov was not the first President of the country after proclaiming independence, but it was him, who successfully strengthened and developed the sprouts of self-sufficiency. First of all, on the global arena, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov enhanced the policy of neutrality already proclaimed by Ashkhabad giving it a new interpretation of «positive neutrality». He rejected the preceding policy of complete political closeness and autarchy, started active establishing and developing mutually beneficial and friendly relations with the neighbors. During the entire period of 15 years when Berdimuhamedov Senior stayed in office, Turkmenistan received its recognizable political identity both in the Region and across the entire Eurasia.

Turkmenistan is the only country in Central Asia, to which the United Nations Organization granted the permanent neutrality status. Its ex-President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov always emphasized that «neutrality is the doctrine in pursuit of the well-being across the planet, strengthening peace, friendship and benevolent relations between the nations, brighter future for the humanity». The state information agency of Turkmenistan is citing his speech right before the International Neutrality Day: «We pursue the policy of peace and trust, which constitutes the basis for international security, stability and development. Over a short period of time, Turkmenistan accumulated valuable experience in establishing partner relations with the members of the global community, leading international organizations focused on assuring peace, global security and sustainable development, which are based on the principles of friendship, mutual respect and trust, as well as experience in coordination of international efforts».

The key priority of Turkmenistan foreign policy across the entire period of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov staying in office was reinforcement of peace, security and stability, especially in the Central Asia. Being a neutral state, Turkmenistan offers its political space for the international community activities targeted at preventing conflicts, creating the atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding in the region. The internationally recognized permanent neutrality status of Turkmenistan is one of the key drivers for mutually beneficial and constructive cooperation of between the country and international community in the interests of assuring peace, prosperity and sustainable development in the region. Successful foreign policy practices of using all the potential of the neutral state is one of the obvious historical merits of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.

Political transit: the experience of Turkmenistan

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov ascended to the political stardom in December 2006, after the sudden death of Turkmenbashi (that used to be the commonly accepted name for the first President of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov). At that time, foreign experts denounced either political collapse or multi-year fight for power inside the elites for this Caspian country. However, the political circles of Turkmenistan consolidated in this difficult time and promoted a new energetic leader. G. Berdimuhamedov was then appointed Chairman of the Commission for organizing the funeral of Turkmenbashi, which under the imprescriptible laws back from the Soviet times meant his recognition as political successor. After that landmark moment, the political career of this 49-year-old Vice Prime Minister and the Minister of Healthcare unrenowned abroad skyrocketed, and in a matter of days he became the acting President of Turkmenistan.

After some immediate amendments to the Constitution neutralizing the ambitions of Ovezgel'dy Atayev, the speaker of the parliament of Turkmenistan, the law-makers opened the road into presidency for G. Berdimuhamedov. A bit later, Uzbekistan utilized this political experience of Turkmenistan. Let us remind here, that after the death of Islam Karimov, not the speaker of the parliament of Uzbekistan came into presidency (he withdrew his name), but the Chairman of the Commission for organizing Karimovs funeral, the Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev. These two important episodes, just like the recent tragic January events in Kazakhstan clearly demonstrate that political transit cannot be held according to the pre-planned scenario and strictly in accordance with the old laws. Karl Schmitt, a political theorist, fairly affirmed that any extraordinary situation per se was a source of new rule-making. Success rests with active political leaders, such as Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, who is an example for settling the accumulated contradictions and becomes the assemblage point for the new political order.

The Turkmen society was enthusiastic about young and energetic G. Berdimuhamedov, who promised political, social and economic reforms. Firstly, it was noticeably tired of strange extravagancies and dictatorial ambitions of the former authoritarian leader Turkmenbashi. Secondly, both the policy and economy of Turkmenistan fairly needed renewal and change for the better. On 11 February 2007, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov was elected the President of Turkmenistan receiving 89.2% of votes. Ordinary public associated many of their hopes with his name. And indeed, a series of decrees and actions by the new President were focused on eliminating the mistakes and not very successful experiments of the preceding ruler. First of all, Berdimuhamedov brought back the pension system, senior secondary and higher education, as well as many other things annihilated by Turkmenbashi. It is worth noting that in future Berdimuhamedov was the winner in three presidential races with similar results. This evidence unchangeably high level of the public support of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedovs policy.

It is important to emphasize, that when performing political and economic reforms in Turkmenistan they always acted at an oriental leisurely pace. They were also similarly careful in gradual debunking of the personality cult of the preceding leader Turkmenbashi. It was especially important that this process did not include sweeping denial of the merits of the predecessor. The piece of writing, which appeared authored by Turkmenbashi «Rukhnama» (the essay on spirituality) was removed from the school curriculum only in 2013. The monuments to the first President were dismantled gradually, and instead of them golden Akhal-Teke racers on cotton-white pedestals appeared in the capital. In essence, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov was extremely delicate in conducting the important process of the supreme power «cleanup» and restoration of the public confidence in it. By the way, the second President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is currently doing the similar job with respect to his predecessor. All this tells us, that the golden kernels of political experience of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov are in demand today and not only in the Central Asian region, but all over across the post-Soviet space.

Turkmenistan is looking ahead

The undisputed achievement of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov is the smart policy of converting high super-profits from exporting the natural resources into the nations future. The Turkmen leader was inspired by the positive examples of neighboring Azerbaijan and the Persian Gulf countries, where the monies received from selling hydrocarbon feedstock are actively invested into new infrastructure and transportation projects, into industrial upgrade and high-potential technologies. Significant diversification of export routes for Turkmen gas took place during the presidency of G. Berdimuhamedov the gas transit network replace the old Soviet gas pipelines system. During the so-called fat years, when the energy prices were high and Turkmen gas was sold to Russia, India and China, the inflow of gas-related revenues was especially high. This provided a unique opportunity for Turkmenistan to make a positive dash into the future.

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov personally allocated huge amounts to developing new infrastructure in Turkmenistan: road construction, building a sea port in Turkmenbashi and a spa-zone Avaza, construction of residential housing, schools and kindergartens. In 2010, Turkmenistan received the well-deserved right for hosting the 5th Asian indoor games, and they took place in Ashkhabad in 2017. The government spent USD 5 bn for building the Athletes Village and the respective infrastructure. The budget for building the new international airport recognized as one of the most beautiful and convenient in the world is estimated as USD 2.5 bn. The Asian Games of 2017 became the historic event for the country, it is inscribed into the annals of Turkmenistan in golden letters.

All this renewed wealth of the country created during many years of successful presidency of G. Berdimuhamedov should be carefully preserved and developed. The new President Serdar Berdimuhamedov, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedovs son, who received the reins of power on 12 March 2022, is now facing these complicated challenges.

This move a very bold one for the Oriental country was duly appreciated by the neighbors, who will be studying it carefully for a long time. It is important that all the mandatory law provisions and procedures were scrupulously adhered to in the process of power transit. Thus, the CIS mission observing the voting in Turkmenistan did not identify any violations. It reported «the elections held at a high level of organization, were unhampered, open and competitive, they were in line with the commonly recognized principles of holding democratic relations». It appears that the dynastic model of power transit, as the most stable form of such transit, will be eagerly solicited in the post-Soviet countries.

Working for creation

Having voluntarily stepped down from the Presidential duties, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov did not turn into a political pensioner as Nursultan Nazarbayev. Today he is the head of Halk Maslahaty (the Peoples Council, the upper chamber of the parliament of Turkmenistan). In agreement with the incumbent President, Berdimuhamedov Senior often meets with top-level foreign visitors, takes part in international conferences and prestigious forums, and keeps his finger on the pulse of domestic and foreign politics. Recently, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov visited Kazan to participate in the 13th International Economic Summit «Russia Islamic World: KazanSummit 2022». During numerous meetings it was stated that the relations between Turkmenistan and the Russian Federation were based on the principles of sincere friendship, confidence and equal rights and were developing in all the areas of bilateral interaction.

The «birthday boy» likes to spend his spare time going into architecture studies. In particular, he is supervising the construction of the new capital city in Ahal velayat (province) Annau, which started from scratch several years ago. In the beginning, his son Serdar headed the construction, and now Berdimuhamedov Senior is committed to completing it and actively participates in shaping the image of this city. You can see reports in Turkmen media about the ex-President developing the design of the main square of the city, which already received the name of Arkadag Square and in the center of which the monument to the golden racer will be erected. Arkadag is Berdimuhamedovs title of honor meaning «patron» or «protector». This is quite deep figurative symbol of the multi-year political activity of Berdimuhamedov Senior.

In the current disturbed international situation, Turkmenistan took upon itself a noble and complicated mission. In particular to search for common grounds, counterposing cooperation to confrontation, dialogue to disputes, and balance to conflicts. And not just to search for areas of common interest, but to find, generate and communicate them at the international arena. The success of his 15-year presidency proved that the Turkmen model of domestic growth and foreign policy developed by Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov is not just efficient, but is a sample of the optimal balance of national interests and global sustainable development priorities.

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Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies
Publications

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov: the secret of political success

photo: turkmenportal.com
27 2022
Victoria Magdala

Victoria Magdala

CISS expert

On June 29, the 6th Caspian summit will take place in Ashkhabad with participation of the heads of all the Caspian states. It will be the day for the ex-President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov to celebrate his 65th birthday. According to some regional experts, this is not just a coincidence. Let us remind here that the top-level meeting in the Caspian region was already shifted for one year due to COVID-19 pandemic, so it was scheduled for autumn. However, after the successful visit of the new President of Turkmenistan Serdar Berdimuhamedov, the summit was rescheduled for a new date. The leaders of the «Caspian five» countries (Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran and Turkmenistan) decided to make a symbolic present to «the birthday boy» in the form of the Caspian summit, to which Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov had been preparing for so long. In fact, this is a collective recognition of multi-year merits of one of the most successful politicians of the post-Soviet area.

It is reported that upon arrival to Ashkhabad on June 29, the RF President Vladimir Putin will visit the upper chamber of the parliament of Turkmenistan to bring his congratulations to its current chairman, the ex-President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.

Neutrality policy: new interpretation

Modern Turkmenistan as a successful state is to a great extent a political project of the «birthday boy». Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov was not the first President of the country after proclaiming independence, but it was him, who successfully strengthened and developed the sprouts of self-sufficiency. First of all, on the global arena, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov enhanced the policy of neutrality already proclaimed by Ashkhabad giving it a new interpretation of «positive neutrality». He rejected the preceding policy of complete political closeness and autarchy, started active establishing and developing mutually beneficial and friendly relations with the neighbors. During the entire period of 15 years when Berdimuhamedov Senior stayed in office, Turkmenistan received its recognizable political identity both in the Region and across the entire Eurasia.

Turkmenistan is the only country in Central Asia, to which the United Nations Organization granted the permanent neutrality status. Its ex-President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov always emphasized that «neutrality is the doctrine in pursuit of the well-being across the planet, strengthening peace, friendship and benevolent relations between the nations, brighter future for the humanity». The state information agency of Turkmenistan is citing his speech right before the International Neutrality Day: «We pursue the policy of peace and trust, which constitutes the basis for international security, stability and development. Over a short period of time, Turkmenistan accumulated valuable experience in establishing partner relations with the members of the global community, leading international organizations focused on assuring peace, global security and sustainable development, which are based on the principles of friendship, mutual respect and trust, as well as experience in coordination of international efforts».

The key priority of Turkmenistan foreign policy across the entire period of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov staying in office was reinforcement of peace, security and stability, especially in the Central Asia. Being a neutral state, Turkmenistan offers its political space for the international community activities targeted at preventing conflicts, creating the atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding in the region. The internationally recognized permanent neutrality status of Turkmenistan is one of the key drivers for mutually beneficial and constructive cooperation of between the country and international community in the interests of assuring peace, prosperity and sustainable development in the region. Successful foreign policy practices of using all the potential of the neutral state is one of the obvious historical merits of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.

Political transit: the experience of Turkmenistan

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov ascended to the political stardom in December 2006, after the sudden death of Turkmenbashi (that used to be the commonly accepted name for the first President of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov). At that time, foreign experts denounced either political collapse or multi-year fight for power inside the elites for this Caspian country. However, the political circles of Turkmenistan consolidated in this difficult time and promoted a new energetic leader. G. Berdimuhamedov was then appointed Chairman of the Commission for organizing the funeral of Turkmenbashi, which under the imprescriptible laws back from the Soviet times meant his recognition as political successor. After that landmark moment, the political career of this 49-year-old Vice Prime Minister and the Minister of Healthcare unrenowned abroad skyrocketed, and in a matter of days he became the acting President of Turkmenistan.

After some immediate amendments to the Constitution neutralizing the ambitions of Ovezgel'dy Atayev, the speaker of the parliament of Turkmenistan, the law-makers opened the road into presidency for G. Berdimuhamedov. A bit later, Uzbekistan utilized this political experience of Turkmenistan. Let us remind here, that after the death of Islam Karimov, not the speaker of the parliament of Uzbekistan came into presidency (he withdrew his name), but the Chairman of the Commission for organizing Karimovs funeral, the Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev. These two important episodes, just like the recent tragic January events in Kazakhstan clearly demonstrate that political transit cannot be held according to the pre-planned scenario and strictly in accordance with the old laws. Karl Schmitt, a political theorist, fairly affirmed that any extraordinary situation per se was a source of new rule-making. Success rests with active political leaders, such as Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, who is an example for settling the accumulated contradictions and becomes the assemblage point for the new political order.

The Turkmen society was enthusiastic about young and energetic G. Berdimuhamedov, who promised political, social and economic reforms. Firstly, it was noticeably tired of strange extravagancies and dictatorial ambitions of the former authoritarian leader Turkmenbashi. Secondly, both the policy and economy of Turkmenistan fairly needed renewal and change for the better. On 11 February 2007, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov was elected the President of Turkmenistan receiving 89.2% of votes. Ordinary public associated many of their hopes with his name. And indeed, a series of decrees and actions by the new President were focused on eliminating the mistakes and not very successful experiments of the preceding ruler. First of all, Berdimuhamedov brought back the pension system, senior secondary and higher education, as well as many other things annihilated by Turkmenbashi. It is worth noting that in future Berdimuhamedov was the winner in three presidential races with similar results. This evidence unchangeably high level of the public support of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedovs policy.

It is important to emphasize, that when performing political and economic reforms in Turkmenistan they always acted at an oriental leisurely pace. They were also similarly careful in gradual debunking of the personality cult of the preceding leader Turkmenbashi. It was especially important that this process did not include sweeping denial of the merits of the predecessor. The piece of writing, which appeared authored by Turkmenbashi «Rukhnama» (the essay on spirituality) was removed from the school curriculum only in 2013. The monuments to the first President were dismantled gradually, and instead of them golden Akhal-Teke racers on cotton-white pedestals appeared in the capital. In essence, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov was extremely delicate in conducting the important process of the supreme power «cleanup» and restoration of the public confidence in it. By the way, the second President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is currently doing the similar job with respect to his predecessor. All this tells us, that the golden kernels of political experience of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov are in demand today and not only in the Central Asian region, but all over across the post-Soviet space.

Turkmenistan is looking ahead

The undisputed achievement of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov is the smart policy of converting high super-profits from exporting the natural resources into the nations future. The Turkmen leader was inspired by the positive examples of neighboring Azerbaijan and the Persian Gulf countries, where the monies received from selling hydrocarbon feedstock are actively invested into new infrastructure and transportation projects, into industrial upgrade and high-potential technologies. Significant diversification of export routes for Turkmen gas took place during the presidency of G. Berdimuhamedov the gas transit network replace the old Soviet gas pipelines system. During the so-called fat years, when the energy prices were high and Turkmen gas was sold to Russia, India and China, the inflow of gas-related revenues was especially high. This provided a unique opportunity for Turkmenistan to make a positive dash into the future.

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov personally allocated huge amounts to developing new infrastructure in Turkmenistan: road construction, building a sea port in Turkmenbashi and a spa-zone Avaza, construction of residential housing, schools and kindergartens. In 2010, Turkmenistan received the well-deserved right for hosting the 5th Asian indoor games, and they took place in Ashkhabad in 2017. The government spent USD 5 bn for building the Athletes Village and the respective infrastructure. The budget for building the new international airport recognized as one of the most beautiful and convenient in the world is estimated as USD 2.5 bn. The Asian Games of 2017 became the historic event for the country, it is inscribed into the annals of Turkmenistan in golden letters.

All this renewed wealth of the country created during many years of successful presidency of G. Berdimuhamedov should be carefully preserved and developed. The new President Serdar Berdimuhamedov, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedovs son, who received the reins of power on 12 March 2022, is now facing these complicated challenges.

This move a very bold one for the Oriental country was duly appreciated by the neighbors, who will be studying it carefully for a long time. It is important that all the mandatory law provisions and procedures were scrupulously adhered to in the process of power transit. Thus, the CIS mission observing the voting in Turkmenistan did not identify any violations. It reported «the elections held at a high level of organization, were unhampered, open and competitive, they were in line with the commonly recognized principles of holding democratic relations». It appears that the dynastic model of power transit, as the most stable form of such transit, will be eagerly solicited in the post-Soviet countries.

Working for creation

Having voluntarily stepped down from the Presidential duties, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov did not turn into a political pensioner as Nursultan Nazarbayev. Today he is the head of Halk Maslahaty (the Peoples Council, the upper chamber of the parliament of Turkmenistan). In agreement with the incumbent President, Berdimuhamedov Senior often meets with top-level foreign visitors, takes part in international conferences and prestigious forums, and keeps his finger on the pulse of domestic and foreign politics. Recently, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov visited Kazan to participate in the 13th International Economic Summit «Russia Islamic World: KazanSummit 2022». During numerous meetings it was stated that the relations between Turkmenistan and the Russian Federation were based on the principles of sincere friendship, confidence and equal rights and were developing in all the areas of bilateral interaction.

The «birthday boy» likes to spend his spare time going into architecture studies. In particular, he is supervising the construction of the new capital city in Ahal velayat (province) Annau, which started from scratch several years ago. In the beginning, his son Serdar headed the construction, and now Berdimuhamedov Senior is committed to completing it and actively participates in shaping the image of this city. You can see reports in Turkmen media about the ex-President developing the design of the main square of the city, which already received the name of Arkadag Square and in the center of which the monument to the golden racer will be erected. Arkadag is Berdimuhamedovs title of honor meaning «patron» or «protector». This is quite deep figurative symbol of the multi-year political activity of Berdimuhamedov Senior.

In the current disturbed international situation, Turkmenistan took upon itself a noble and complicated mission. In particular to search for common grounds, counterposing cooperation to confrontation, dialogue to disputes, and balance to conflicts. And not just to search for areas of common interest, but to find, generate and communicate them at the international arena. The success of his 15-year presidency proved that the Turkmen model of domestic growth and foreign policy developed by Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov is not just efficient, but is a sample of the optimal balance of national interests and global sustainable development priorities.