On Friday, July 8, Turkmen President Serdar Berdimuhamedov shuffled his deck of high-level government staff, dismissing more than 26 ministers during a government meeting. After hearing reports from various ministers on economic matters, the ax fell on a number of them.
Given the opacity of the Turkmen government, close attention is paid to ministerial shuffles. As I wrote back in April, while examining the first small shuffles under Turkmenistan’s new president, “With few avenues to observe the dynamics of Turkmen politics, what we can see are the surface ripples: who is appointed to what positions, who is reprimanded in public, and who hangs onto their seats.”
Among those dismissed last week was Deputy Prime Minister for Economics and Finance Muhammetguly Mukhammedov, who was appointed in March to the post once held by Berdimuhamedov. Mukhammedov’s report claimed that the Turkmen economy is clipping along at a growth rate of 6 percent. Inflation was not mentioned, nor were any notes of economic worry sounded. Mukhammedov was dismissed anyway and replaced with the former rector of the Turkmen State Institute of Economics and Management, Hojamyrat Geldimyradov. Aknabat Atabayeva was released from her duties as a deputy khyakim in Mary to become the new rector of the Turkmen State Institute of Economics and Management.
Also dismissed was Deputy Prime Minister for Science and Education, Health, and Sports Sapardurdy Toylyev, after similarly laying out his achievements. Health and Medical Industry Minister Nurmukhammed Amannepesov was appointed to replace Toylyev, and his former deputy at the ministry, Atageldy Germanov, was promoted to minister.
Ministers haven’t been the only ones on the chopping block. Berdimuhamedov changed up the country’s ambassadors to Austria, Japan, Belgium, France, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and South Korea. But not, notably, the Turkmen ambassador to the United States, Meret Orazov, who has been in his post since Turkmenistan’s first president, Saparmurat Niyazov, appointed him to it in 2001. Foreign Minister Rasit Meredow, who has also been in his post since 2001, is similarly untouchable.
Unlike democratic states, where government staff are largely drawn from an establishment with distinct career lines, and measured against the universal metrics of competence, efficiency, and professionalism; Turkmenistan’s follows a patrimonial logic…
Under this form of authoritarianism, the ruler and his associates regularly intervene in the structures of governance, disregarding their internal norms, professional standards, and even ethos. The objective is to disempower institutions which could potentially rival the executive branch, and a major component of this process involves the executive directly subordinating institutions by placing himself in key positions.
The frequent shuffling of officials ensures that none sit too long in any specific post, which could allow them to build a competing network of political and government support. But this also hampers the development of competence or expertise, and devalues both. Given the capricious nature of appointments and dismissals, there’s not much incentive to perform well. All of this, of course, makes the extremely long terms of Orazov and Meredow, noted above, particularly fascinating.
It appears the younger Berdimuhamedov is continuing in the traditions of his predecessors, including his own father, from whom he took over the presidency after a sham snap election in March.