Earlier this year, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow was re-elected with an overwhelming and hardly credible 97 percent majority to his second term as president of the Central Asian nation of five million people. Back in 2007, he won with only 87 percent even though no opposition candidate was allowed to run against him. The 55-year old promised to step back from the excessive personality cult of his predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov, who had ruled the country from its founding in 1990 to his death in 2006. In the meantime, he has his citizens practice their patriotic affection before his appearances. They will recognize him, because his framed chubby face can be seen anywhere.
“Bribery is pervasive throughout Turkmenistan’s government to the extent that the public expects to pay bribes during almost any interaction with the government,” a 2010 U.S. diplomatic cable read. During the first three years of Berdimuhamedow’s rule, the price of introductions to him has risen by 10 to 15 percent, well above inflation rates. The cable, published by Wikileaks, goes on to list the costs of a bribe for traffic offenses: running a red light, $50; drunk driving $150-22o; speeding tickets are forgotten for as little as $5-30.