Turkmenistan promulgated its first constitution as an independent republic in May 1992, replacing the constitution of the Soviet period. The republic does not yet have a multiparty system in place, and most candidates have run unopposed in elections. All citizens aged 18 and older may vote.
The president of Turkmenistan is head of state, head of government, and supreme commander of the armed forces. The office of president was established in Turkmenistan in 1990 shortly before the republic’s independence from the Soviet Union. The 1992 constitution increased the powers of the president and made the president head of the Council of Ministers with the option of appointing a prime minister at any time. The president appoints the members of the council, which administers the daily operations of government. Under the constitution, the president is directly elected to a five-year term and may be elected for no more than two consecutive terms. However, in 1994 the legislature voted to extend President Saparmurad Niyazov’s term of office until 2002, and voters endorsed the decision in a nationwide referendum.
Turkmenistan’s constitution provided for the creation of a new legislature, a 50-member body called the Majlis (Assembly). However, the 175-seat Supreme Soviet elected in 1990 was allowed to serve out its term, and elections to the new Majlis were postponed until 1994. Members of the Majlis are directly elected and serve for five-year terms. Turkmenistan also has a supervisory organ called the Khalk Maslakhaty (People's Council), which is authorized to perform some duties normally reserved for a legislature. The Khalk Maslakhaty, the most powerful government body in the country, debates and approves some legislation, reviews possible constitutional amendments, and may vote an expression of “no confidence” against the president. The Khalk Maslakhaty is headed by the president of the republic. It is composed of the 50 members of the Majlis, 10 appointed regional representatives, 50 directly elected members, the members of the Council of Ministers, the chairperson of the Supreme Court, and other important officials.
For purposes of local government, Turkmenistan is divided into five velayets (regions). The velayets are further subdivided into ils (districts), which may be either counties or cities. Each of the velayets is ruled by a veli (governor), who is appointed by the president. The veli in turn appoints the heads of the ils within his velayet, who are known as hekims.
The judicial system of Turkmenistan includes a Supreme Court, which is the highest court in the nation, and a Supreme Economic Court. The Supreme Economic Court rules on contract disputes, conflicts between businesses, and other commercial and taxation issues. Under the 1992 constitution, the president of Turkmenistan appoints and removes all judges.
The Communist Party of Turkmenistan was renamed the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (DPT) in December 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed. The party retained its position as the republic’s only legal party, whereas in other former Soviet republics the Communist Party was suspended or dissolved. President Niyazov is head of the DPT, which was the only standing party in the legislative elections of 1994. In late 1992 Niyazov announced that as a first step toward establishing a multiparty system, the Peasants’ Party, founded that year by an agrarian-interest faction in the Majlis, would eventually be permitted to register. As of early 1998, however, the party was not yet registered. Several opposition groups have been officially banned, including a popular front organization called Agzybirlik, founded in 1989.
Before Turkmenistan became an independent country, its armed forces were part of the centrally controlled Soviet security system. In 1992 the government of Turkmenistan began developing a national defense force. The government based the new armed forces on former Soviet military units that were still stationed in the country. Under an agreement with Russia and Turkey, Turkmenistan’s armed forces are to operate under joint Turkmen-Russian command, with Turkish military advisers, until they are fully developed. The republic has an army of 14,500 troops and an air force of 3,000. The Caspian Sea Flotilla, a former Soviet force now based at the Russian port of Astrakhan’ (except for a portion ceded to Azerbaijan), operates under the joint command of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Russia. However, the government of Turkmenistan plans to develop its own navy. All males in Turkmenistan must perform 18 months of military service beginning at the age of 18.
In 1991 Turkmenistan joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose political and economic alliance of 12 former Soviet republics. In 1992 it became a member of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), which promotes economic and cultural cooperation between Islamic states. In 1994 Turkmenistan became the first of the Central Asian states to join the Partnership for Peace program of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a program designed to strengthen relations between NATO and non-NATO states. The republic is also a member of the United Nations (UN), the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).