Will Foreign Election Monitors be Given Free Hand?

Date 2007/1/27 8:28:00 | Topic: Acts

In an unprecedented move, the Turkmen authorities are allowing foreign election monitors in to follow the February 11 presidential ballot, but commentators warn they will be given only restricted access to the polls.
At a January 20 cabinet meeting, Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov announced that “agreements have been reached with the OSCE and a number of other international organisations to send observers to the presidential election”.

When the late Saparmurat Niazov was president, foreign nationals were not allowed to observe elections in Turkmenistan. The only monitoring was by local observers from the Turkmen National Institute for Human Rights, the official Democratic Party, the Youth Union, the Women’s Union and other groups subservient to the state.

For this election, too, these same groups have geared up to carry out monitoring in the manner they are instructed to, an NBCentralAsia source in Turkmenistan said.

As for the authorities granting access to international observers, one Turkmenistan-based commentator suggested the move was an attempt to flirt with the electorate and the international community, and did not reflect a real aspiration to hold fair elections.

Mars Sariev, an NBCentralAsia expert on Turkmenistan, pointed out that the new leadership has an incentive to win international recognition. On the one hand, he said, giving access to foreign observers will add legitimacy to the election, and on the other, “contacts with the OSCE and other international organisations will limit the opposition’s ability to claim the poll is illegal”.

Vyacheslav Mamedov, leader of the Civic Democratic Union, an émigré Turkmen group, said the authorities are likely to be selective in the access they allow foreign monitors, for example by preventing them from talking to voters.

“Every monitor will be shadowed by a National Security Ministry officer to prevent them communicating with civil activists, while the latter will be warned beforehand that such encounters are not desirable,” he said.

Tajigul Begmedova, head of the Turkmen Helsinki Fund, said the Central Electoral Committee is likely to recruit some foreign observers from friendly countries that back the Turkmen regime.

“The presidential election is being completely stage-managed by the interim leadership, and it cannot be described as democratic,” she said.

(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)


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