Why do sultanistic regimes arise and persist? : a study of government in the republic of Turkmenistan, 1992-2006
This thesis investigates why extreme forms of personal rule arise and endure in the contemporary international system. More particularly, it seeks to answer the puzzle of why the regime of President Saparmurat Niyazov (Turkmenbashi), in the Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan, has paradoxically proven to be one of the region's most stable states between 1992 and 2006, notwithstanding the fact that it is characterised by Niyazov's unchecked personal power, barely functional political institutions, endemic corruption and a pervasive cult of personality. The study develops the theoretical approach most commonly applied to this type of regime and produces an original empirical study of a strategically important gas-rich state that has hitherto received almost no attention from the academic community. Specifically, the thesis engages with two theories of sultanistic regimes advanced in 1990 by H.E. Chehabi and Juan J. Linz. The research findings demonstrate that, while the essential insights of the theories remain valid, they require careful revision and refinement if they are to successfully incorporate postcommunist regimes into their paradigm. The project uses a mixture of interviews, field observation, and primary and secondary documents to answer the research problem. It finds that the structural legacies of the pre Soviet and Soviet period, allied to a favourable strategic context, enabled Niyazov to secure power and sideline potential rivals. The thesis argues that a combination of different domestic control techniques, of which the cult of personality forms an essential part, has been deployed by Niyazov to maintain his position. Taken together, these techniques form a 'disciplinary-symbolic' nexus aimed at preventing the emergence of opposition groups, while simultaneously promoting Niyazov as the sole guarantor of national unity and prosperity. The thesis also explores popular responses to sultanism, concluding that Turkmen adopt a complex and contradictory web of personal strategies in their dealings with the regime, ranging from engagement, accommodation and indifference, through to covert resistance and outright opposition. Finally, the thesis assesses the interaction between sultanistic regimes and external actors. It finds that, far from exposing rulers to greater pressure from the international community, the end of the Cold War actually increased the autonomy of many sultanistic rulers. No longer shackled by the disciplines of superpower patronage, most sultanistic rulers, including Niyazov, have been able to function with minimal constraints on their domestic behaviour.