Page last updated at 15:11 GMT, Friday, 26 September 2008 16:11 UK

Turkmenistan takes reformist step

The Turkmen People's Council
Exiles and observers said the new measures were superficial

The Central Asian state of Turkmenistan has adopted a new constitution that supporters say will promote multi-party politics and the market economy.

The measure was passed unanimously by the People's Council, a group of 2,500 tribal elders and local lawmakers.

The Council will be abolished and parliament will almost double in size after elections in December.

The energy-rich former Soviet nation has hinted it wants stronger ties with the West and to open up to investment.

It comes two years after the death of autocratic leader Saparmurat Niyazov, whose tight grip on power resulted in two decades of almost complete isolation.

Personality cult

Mr Niyazov's successor, President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, said that the old constitution was "outdated" and did not fit with Turkmenistan's "progress".

"The new constitution corresponds to all international and democratic norms," he said.

"By adopting it, we will show our country's authority at an international level."

Under the new constitution, President Berdymukhamedov will now have the power to name regional governors and mayors, as well as appoint the electoral commission.

It paves the way for the formation of multiple political parties in a country that currently only has one - the Democratic Party headed by the president.

State-run radio said the constitution would give a powerful impetus to fundamental changes in all spheres of society's development.

However, exiles and observers said the measures were superficial, leaving President Berdymukhamedov free to rule by decree.

In 1999, the People's Council, which was created by Mr Niyazov, made him president-for-life.

In 2002 it renamed the days and months of the year after Mr Niyazov, his mother and the holy book he wrote called the Rukhnama.

But since his death in December 2006 his successor has introduced tentative reforms aimed at eroding the personality cult.

Fresh optimism in Turkmenistan
21 Dec 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Russian gas deal dashes EU hopes
20 Dec 07 |  Business
Profile: Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov
21 Dec 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Turkmenistan
30 Jul 08 |  Country profiles

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