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Niyazov, Turkmenbashi, Amu Darya, direct popular vote, Western firms

In May 1992 Turkmenistan adopted a new constitution to replace the one of the Soviet period. The new constitution enhanced the powers of the president. Among other provisions, it made the president head of government as well as head of state and gave the president the option to appoint a prime minister at any time. Niyazov ran unopposed in an election held in June and was reelected president by direct popular vote.

In February 1993 Niyazov announced that the government would transfer all land to private ownership within ten years as part of a comprehensive economic reform program. In December the governments of Turkmenistan and Russia granted Turkmenistan’s Russian minority dual citizenship—the first such agreement between any of the former Soviet republics—in a move to prevent a large-scale emigration of Russians from Turkmenistan. The government of Turkmenistan also agreed to allow Russian troops to be stationed indefinitely along Turkmenistan’s southern borders with Iran and Afghanistan. In May, meanwhile, Turkmenistan was the only CIS member that refused to sign a declaration of intent to form a CIS economic union. Although Turkmenistan subsequently agreed to join the economic union, it has since resisted further integration within the CIS. Turkmenistan was the only CIS member state in Central Asia to remain neutral regarding the civil war between government and Islamic rebel forces in Tajikistan, and it did not contribute troops to the CIS peacekeeping force that was deployed to that war-torn country in 1993.

In a national referendum held in January 1994, voters approved extending Niyazov's term until 2002 without the need for a presidential election. Elections to a new legislature called the Majlis were held in December 1994. Of the legislature’s 50 seats, 49 were filled by candidates who ran unopposed. The DPT was the only legal party at the time of the elections.

Niyazov’s style of leadership has been increasingly authoritarian, and he has developed a cult of personality. Numerous streets, public buildings, and institutions are named after him, and he is officially called Turkmenbashi (Leader of the Turkmens). Political freedoms are routinely suppressed in Turkmenistan. Niyazov’s government controls the media, and censorship is widespread because freedom of the press is not guaranteed in the constitution. The government has sought to prevent the development of a fundamentalist Islamic movement in Turkmenistan and has maintained control over the Islamic hierarchy, which publicly supports Niyazov. Niyazov has not allowed political parties other than the DPT to participate in government, forcing the opposition underground. Some opposition leaders are in exile in other CIS countries. Kuliyev resigned from his post as minister of foreign affairs in August 1992, reportedly in reaction to Niyazov's growing personality cult.

In January 1996 Turkmenistan eased tense relations with neighboring Uzbekistan by signing a package of agreements on border disputes and the sharing of the waters of the Amu Darya. Since achieving independence, Turkmenistan has strengthened its ties with Turkey, especially in the area of trade. Relations with Iran have also been amicable, and a rail line opened between the two countries in May 1996. Turkmenistan also has begun to establish a wide range of Western contacts, most notably by entering into deals with Western firms to develop the country’s rich oil and gas reserves. New distribution routes for these resources are in the process of being developed. Until recently, the only existing pipeline extended into Russia. In late December 1997 Turkmenistan opened a pipeline to Iran that could eventually extend through Turkey and into Europe. Negotiations are also under way for the possible construction of another new pipeline that would run through Afghanistan to Pakistan.

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