"When Turkmenistan gained independence with the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, the former republic's president and head of the Turkmen Communist Party, Saparamurad Niyazov, retained power. He was reelected president in another uncontested race in 1992, and a referendum in 1994 extended his term until 2002. Before facing reelection, however, constitutional amendments approved in 1999 proclaimed him president for life. The country's May 1992 constitution granted Niyazov overwhelming powers to rule by decree as head of state and government. According to several assessments, he was among the world's most authoritarian rulers, and his regime was highly corrupt and responsible for serious human rights abuses. The regime increasingly restricted contacts by citizens with the outside world. Following the death of President Niyazov in December 2006, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow was elected president in early 2007. International observers viewed the election as putting into place some institutional features that might in the future lead to a free and fair election. A new constitution approved in 2008 reaffirmed Turkmenistan as a 'secular democracy' with a powerful president able to rule by decree. The constitution included an impressive list of individual rights, but emphasized that the exercise of rights must not violate public order or damage national security. An early legislative election was held in December 2008. International observers assessed the election as not free and fair. According to some observers, the Berdimuhamedow government has retained many authoritarian features of the previous regime, and the human rights situation has deteriorated after an initial improvement at the time of the political succession."
CRS Report for Congress, 97-1055