By Tavus Rejepova (09/03/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
During the first session of the Commission on Improvement of the Constitution of Turkmenistan on August 6, President Berdimuhamedov stated a need to amend and introduce new articles to the country’s constitution.
Speaking during the session, the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan’s chairman Kasymguly Babayev noted that a constitutional reform is a “historical necessity” and assured that the members of his party will run a full scale public awareness campaign on the issue.
The last time Turkmenistan’s constitution was amended under the current administration was in September of 2008, when Turkmenistan’s 2,500 member legislative body, the Khalk Maslahaty (people’s council), was abolished and its powers were transferred to the president and the Mejlis (parliament). In addition, amendments were made to reflect the country’s commitment to market economic principles, various types of property ownership and principles of democratic development.
In May 2014, President Berdimuhamedov signed a decree “On establishment of the Constitutional Commission and its composition for improvement of the Constitution.” The Mejlis Speaker Akja Nurberdiyeva said the creation of this commission on constitutional reform has gained wide support among the population. Nurberdiyeva pledged that the Members of Parliament will hold meetings and seminars to solicit public opinion on the constitutional reform. “With the development of market economic relations and private entrepreneurship, there is a growing necessity to improve issues of ownership and property relations to bring them up to modern methods and standards,” Nurberdiyeva said.
President Berdimuhamedov noted that the Constitution, adopted in 1992, has successfully passed the test of time and that the deep socio-economic transformations or changes the Turkmen nation is undergoing over the course of the latest years need to be written down and regulated by law. “The new articles in the Constitution will not only reflect today’s political, economic and social issues, but also address the directions of the near and distant future,” said the president. He called for a need to bring the Constitution up to contemporary world standards and noted that the upcoming constitutional reforms are aimed at step-by-step development of socio-political relations and drawing clear lines among the legislative, judicial and executive branches of the government.
The Mejlis will be the main state body responsible for organizational issues and necessary documents in connection with the upcoming constitutional reform. The President suggested that the Parliament creates two inter-sector committees. The first committee, to be established by the Mejlis’ decree will receive, study and categorize the public recommendations to the Constitutional Reform Committee on improving the constitution. While the draft reforms are being prepared, the second committee or Mejlis Working Group will consist of scientists, representatives of ministries, public organizations, and experts and will do a political, legal evaluation on the draft project. The president mentioned that the deep meaning and purposes of the constitutional reform should be explained to the public.
Though the government has not released any timeline for the suggested constitutional reform, some sources claim it will be completed sometime close to the session of Yashulylar Maslahaty (Council of Elders) scheduled for October 20, 2014. Once the reforms are prepared, the draft constitution will be published in all state newspapers and internet websites for public discussion and input. Maysa Yazmuhamedova, Deputy Chairwoman of the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan covering culture, TV, and the press was tasked to raise the public awareness through mass media in ways easily understandable to the public.
President Berdimuhamedov also gave specific directives to various ministries in support of the upcoming constitutional reform. Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its International Relations Institute, and the Turkmen National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights under the President of Turkmenistan, were tasked to study whether the upcoming constitutional amendments meet the UN Human Rights Conventions to which Turkmenistan is a signatory, and also suggested that these agencies raise the public awareness of the constitutional reform abroad.
Deputy Chairmen in the oil and gas sector, trade and economy were told to create special working groups that will study the public input related to their respective portfolios. Deputy Chairman Annamuhammet Gochyev covering economy and finance will provide financial support for conducting the constitutional reform and also prepare a proposal for the President’s consideration on any possible additions to the constitutional amendments deriving from the economy, banking and finance sectors.
The president also recommended seeking the expert views of the local offices of international organizations on the new constitution draft. Satlyk Satlykov, the Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers who covers the transportation and communications sectors in the government, was tasked to make Internet communication widely accessible in receiving public opinion on the draft constitution and Deputy Chairman Sapardurdy Toylyev was tasked with seeking the input of the scholarly community.