Since becoming an independent country in 1991, Turkmenistan has had only two Presidents who have been the heads of state and highest ranking politicians. From 1924, the country was part of the Soviet Republic, and the Presidential duties were undertaken by the First Secretaries of the Turkmen Communist Party.
Turkmenistan gained independence in 1991 and adopted a constitution in 1992. Today it has a presidential republic type of government. Over time, the powers, requirements, and duties of the President have been changed through amendments and most recently, a new constitution adopted on September 14, 2016. Turkmenistan’s President serves as the guarantor of the country’s independence, territorial integrity, neutrality as well as international agreements. The president represents the country internationally and appoints or dismisses ambassadors and diplomatic representatives.
Presidents Of Turkmenistan Since The Collapse Of The Soviet Union
Saparmurat Niyazov (1991-2006)
Saparmurat Niyazov was born in Gypjak, Turkmen USSR on February 19, 1940. He studied electrical engineering at the Leningrad Polytechnic Institute after which he left for further studies in Russia but was dismissed for academic failure. He then joined the Communist Party, rising through the ranks to become the First Secretary of the party by the age of 45. Niyazov promoted a hardline communist approach and assumed the office of the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Turkmen SSR. After an unsuccessful Soviet Coup in 1991, Niyazov declared his country’s independence and oversaw Presidential elections across the country. He garnered 99.9% of the votes and soon after he declared himself the father of all Turkmens, adopting the name "Turkmenbashy".
Niyazov adopted a neutrality policy in international affairs and provided the citizens with commodities such as electricity, salt, water, gas, and gasoline for free. He wrote a book titled Ruhnama which was part spiritual and part history and was to be treated as par with the Bible and the Qur’an. Niyazov built a cult of personality through erecting several statues and changing the names of the months and adopting those of his family members instead. He was criticized for his authoritarian regime which saw the censoring of media and the internet. He died on December 21, 2006, of a heart attack and was buried in Kipchak Mosque situated in Gypjak.
Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow (2006-Present)
Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow was born in the Geok-tepe district, Ashgabat Province in Turkmenistan on June 29, 1957. He studied dentistry at the Turkmen State Medical Institute and was appointed Minister of Health by President Niyazov in 1997. He became deputy prime minister in 2001 and assumed office as interim president after Niyazov’s death in 2006. An election in 2007 confirmed him as the president with 89.23% of the votes while a subsequent election in 2012 saw him garner 97% of the total votes. He set about to reverse Niyazov’s policies through actions such as restoring the names of the months and days, reinstating physical education and foreign languages in schools, approving pensions for 100,000 old citizens, and reopening the Turkmen Academy of Sciences. Berdimuhamedow has spearheaded education, health, and economic reforms but has been criticized for promoting his own personality cult and dictatorial policies.
Challenges Facing Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan is facing economic uncertainty in the face of falling oil and gas prices in the global market has had the greatest negative effect. This situation has caused the devaluation of the country’s currency. While Turkmenistan has enjoyed political stability throughout the years, the current economic climate is a fertile ground for unrest and protest. The country’s isolation approach in international affairs has, in recent time, faced challenges in the context of increasing globalization.