Serdar Berdimuhamedov did not make any promises during his election campaign in 2022. So, if we agree on this, then we can successfully say that he did fulfill his promises. However, on March 1, 2022 Progres published an article outlining the short-term priorities for his first 100 days. Some of our readers and the public were shocked by our audacity to outline them, others thought that Serdar Berdimuhamedov himself made these promises. The confusion ensued among some of our readers and the public because they have never seen any priorities set in the history of election campaigns in Turkmenistan. Another part of the public had some tiny sparks of hope that the new leader would ease a long list of restrictions in the economic and social lives of Turkmens. None of the candidates, including Serdar Berdimuhamedov, have articulated any policies, specific goals, and targets.
On June 29, 2022, Proges.online asked its Twitter followers in Turkmen “Serdar Berdimuhamedowyň prezident bolanyna 100 gün boldy. Onuň prezidentlik wezipesini alyp barşyny makullaýarsyňmy? “It has been 100 days since Serdar Berdimuhmedov has became president. Do you approve or disapprove of the way that the current president is handling his job as president?
96.9% of respondents said “No” and 3.1% said “Yes”. Although the sample size of 32 votes might look small, it is actually big in the context of Turkmenistan because the question is new and never asked before, so respondents have to care and be brave enough to state their position by voting.
The first 100 days of his presidency run between March 19, 2022- July 27, 2022. We would like to share our main observations based on what we asked for, the Turkmen public’s hopes articulated on social media and what has been actually delivered by the new administration in this period.
The new administration has not admitted the existence of the COVID-19 pandemic, nor did they release any statistics related to deaths, infections, and recoveries in the country. What changed is that the Turkmen citizens traveling to Turkmenistan from abroad are now quarantined for 7-days at home, which was previously 21 days at a state-run quarantine facility.
Domestic and international travel
Medical tourism to Iran, India, and Turkey is still restricted because air travel to these three countries has not yet resumed.
COVID-based travel restrictions between the regions of the country have been partially relaxed. Most domestic train and plane routes between the regions have been resumed, though passengers need to present the results of a PCR test for COVID-19 issued no earlier than 48 hours before departure. Getting electronic approval of the Migration Services for domestic travel is no longer required since 5 July. To have a summer vacation at the Awaza Caspian resort, on the other hand, one still is required to apply for electronic permission from the Migration Services.
International flights have partially resumed since 30 May 2022. Flights from Turkmenistan to Dubai (UAE), Kazan (Russia), and Moscow (Russia) operate twice a week. Nevertheless, buying tickets for these flights is still difficult and involves standing in long lines. Flights to Istanbul, where the majority of Turkmen migrants live and work, are still closed.
The Embassies of Turkmenistan abroad have started extending the validity of passports up until December 2024 by putting a stamp in an expired passport. However, there are no plans to print and issue new passports at the Embassies. This impacts the status of thousands of Turkmen citizens overseas.
Visa-free travel for tourism and business to neighboring countries in Central Asia, Russia, and Turkey has still not been introduced. On the contrary, there are unconfirmed news reports that Turkmenistan and Turkey are considering the possibility of abolishing the visa-free regime for the citizens of Turkmenistan. Citizens of Turkey can only travel with a visa to Turkmenistan.
- There have been no attempts to release the results of the 2012 census, macroeconomic indicators, or the public health statistics.
- High cost of living is not a priority and not discussed publicly or officially.
- Black-market exchange rates of foreign currencies are still there and there has been no talks of dismantling them.
- There continue to be restrictions on banking services, particularly in withdrawing money from ATMs, as well as sending and receiving money from abroad. Western Union services are still not available to the public.
- The backward “propiska” (compulsory residency permit) system is still in place and no reforms have been initiated on the issues that severely restricts freedom of movement and employment in Turkmenistan.
Major setbacks for the Turkmen society
Under the presidency of Serdar Berdimuhamedov, the internet in Turkmenistan became slower and more restricted. On April 11, 2022, internet in the country was nearly in complete shutdown.
Beauty salons and services for women and girls have been closed, services restricted due to unwritten rules, ordered from “above”. Restrictions on make-up, hair, and clothing of women and girls working in the public sector have been implemented arbitrarily. There are recent unconfirmed news reports that some salons have managed to resume their services.
Women are discriminated against and refused to renew their driver’s licenses under the pretext of not owning a car. However, if a woman under 40 comes to the traffic police to register a car in her name, she is refused the service without any explanation.
The gestational term for abortion in Turkmenistan had been reduced from 12 weeks to 5 weeks in 2015. The detailed guidelines became publicly available in April 2022.
It is important to note that the international media covered these developments and created a lot of negative publicity. The government agencies, ministries in Turkmenistan kept silent and chose not to refute or provide any explanation to the international media and the public which has fueled panic and misinformation.
What reforms did you expect? Do you approve or disapprove of the way Serdar Berdimuhamedov is handling his job as president?