ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan — A new political party was formed for the first time in Turkmenistan since the isolated ex-Soviet state won independence in 1991, the TDN state news agency said Tuesday.
"The formation of the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Turkmenistan was approved unanimously by representatives of small and medium businesses and the business community at the founding congress," TDN said.
The head of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Alexander Dadaev, called the party's creation "a historical event for the country."
For decades, the only political party permitted in authoritarian Turkmenistan was the ruling Democratic Party, formerly the Turkmen branch of the Soviet Communist Party.
But in January, the energy-rich Central Asian state enacted a law allowing new parties to be formed.
To be authorised, a party must have at least 1,000 members and its governing structure must be "located exclusively on Turkmenistan territory," a clause that appears to exclude existing opposition movements, whose leaders all live in exile.
"By the end of the year, another party is expected to be formed, the Agrarian Party of Turkmenistan," a government source told AFP.
The Democratic Party is led by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who took over following the 2006 death of longtime dictator Saparmurat Niyazov, famed for his bizarre personality cult and intolerant of any opposition.
Berdymukhamedov embarked on cautious reform but critics say the state remains deeply authoritarian and accuse him of now installing a personality cult of his own.
He was re-elected in February with 97 percent of the vote.
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