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No invitation for election monitors

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The Turkmen government has shown little interest in inviting any international observers to monitor the parliamentary elections scheduled for December. Rights activists have described the polls in the secretive country as mere window dressing. The office of the special envoy of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to Central Asia, Martti Ahtisaari, confirmed to IRIN that the Turkmen government was not planning to invite any international organisation to monitor the 19 December polls. Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president, visited the reclusive Central Asian state earlier this month and met President Saparmurat Niyazov and senior government officials. The OSCE centre in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, said that the issue of the elections had been touched on by Ahtisaari and Niyazov in their talks. "Should the Turkmen government decide to contact the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) on that issue, ODIHR will make its technical expertise available," Dieter Matthei, an OSCE political officer, told IRIN from Ashgabat. Urdur Gunnarsdottir, a spokeswoman for ODIHR, told IRIN from Warsaw that they hadn't received any invitation from Ashgabat on the issue. "We have not received an invitation yet. We have applied for visas to go to Turkmenistan to conduct a needs assessment mission but regrettably we have not received an invitation to observe the elections," she said, adding that they were still waiting for an official reply from Ashgabat. As for the upcoming election in the largely desert, but energy-rich country, rights activists have described them generally as a sham. "It is clear that elections in Turkmenistan resemble polls during the Stalin period in the former Soviet Union and it will simply be a sham," Vitali Ponomarev, head of the Central Asia project with the Moscow-based Memorial human rights centre, told IRIN from the Russian capital. The list of all candidates was generally hand-picked and personally approved by Niyazov, and members of the parliament had no real power, acting only as a rubber stamp institution, Ponomarev claimed. "There have never been democratic elections in Turkmenistan. Of course, quasi-elections are held in the country as an advertising instrument to show to the international community that allegedly democratic elections are conducted, but all of this is just window dressing," Tajigul Begmedova, head of the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for human rights, told IRIN from the eastern Bulgarian city of Varna, where her organisation is based. "We cannot see civil activists or leaders taking part in the election process and there are no independent observers monitoring polls," Begmedova said. The Turkmen parliament (Mejlis) has 50 members elected for a five-year term in single seat constituencies. All candidates in the elections of 12 December 1999 belonged to the country's only legal party, the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (DPT).
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