President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov, a former bureaucrat of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, ruled Turkmenistan from 1985, when he became head of the Communist Party of the Turkmen SSR, until his death in 2006. He retained absolute control over the country after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. On December 28, 1999, Niyazov was declared President for Life of Turkmenistan by the Mejlis (parliament), which itself had taken office only a week earlier in elections that included only candidates hand-picked by President Niyazov; no opposition candidates were allowed.
The former Communist Party, now known as the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, is the only one legally permitted. Political gatherings are illegal unless government sanctioned.
All citizens are required to carry internal passports, noting place of residence--a practice carried over from the Soviet era. Movement into and out of the country, as well as within its borders, is difficult. Turkmenistan is dominated by a pervasive cult of personality extolling the late president as Türkmenbaşy ("Leader of all Turkmen"), a title he assumed in 1993. His face adorns many everyday objects, from banknotes to bottles of vodka. The logo of Turkmen national television is his profile. The two books he has written are mandatory readings in schools and public servants are quizzed yearly about their knowledge of their contents. It is also common in shops and homes. Many institutions are named after his mother. All watches and clocks made must bear his portrait printed on the dial-face. A giant 15-meter (50 ft) tall gold-plated statue of him stands on a rotating pedestal in Ashgabat, so it will always face into the sun and shine light onto the city.
A slogan popular in Turkmen propaganda is "Halk! Watan! Türkmenbashi!" ("People! Motherland! Leader!") Niyazov renamed the days of the week after members of his family and wrote the new Turkmen national anthem/oath himself.
Foreign companies seeking to exploit Turkmenistan's vast natural gas resources cooperated with Niyazov since he also controlled access to the natural resources. His book, Ruhnama (or Rukhnama), which is revered in Turkmenistan almost like a holy text, has been translated into 32 languages and distributed for free among major international libraries Niyazov once proclaimed that anyone who reads this book three times will "become more intelligent, will recognise the divine being and will go straight to heaven".
After Niyazov's death, deputy prime minister Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow was named acting president, and was elected president in his own right on 11 February 2007 in elections condemned by international observers as fraudulent. On March 20, in a decision of significant symbolical weight in the ongoing rejection of Niyazov's personality cult, he abolished the power of the president to rename any landmarks, institutions, or cities. 
The constitution provides for freedom of the press, but the government does not practice it. The government controls all media outlets. Only two newspapers, Adalat and Galkynysh, are nominally independent, but they were created by presidential decree. Cable TV, which had existed in the late 1980s, was shut down.
Activities of all but the officially recognized Russian Orthodox and Sunni Muslim faiths are severely limited. Religious congregations are required to register with the government, and individual parishes must have at least 500 members to register. Severe measures are directed toward religious sects that have not been able to establish official ties of state recognition, especially Baptists, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Hare Krishna, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Bahá'ís. Practitioners of these sects have allegedly been harassed, imprisoned, and/or tortured, according to some outside human rights advocacy groups.
Corruption continues to be pervasive. Power is concentrated in the president; the judiciary is wholly subservient to the regime, with all judges appointed for five-year terms by the president without legislative review. Little has been done to prosecute corrupt officials.
Under the 1992 constitution, the president is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. Niyazov added the post of chairman of the Supreme Soviet in January 1990, and was elected as the country's first president that October. He was the only candidate in Turkmenistan's first presidential elections in 1992. A 1994 plebiscite extended his term to 2002, and Parliament extended his term indefinitely in 1999.
After the death of Niyazov, Deputy Prime Minister Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow took over, despite the fact that Öwezgeldi Ataýew, the Chairman of the Parliament of Turkmenistan, would be the next in line in the order of succession (allegedly because the prosecutor-general had initiated investigations against Ataýew). The president appoints the deputy chairmen of the cabinet of ministers.
Elections: People's Council – last held in April 2003 (next to be held December 2008); Mejlis – last held 19 December 2004 (next to be held December 2008). Election results: Mejlis – DPT 100%; seats by party – DPT 50; note – all 50 elected officials are members of the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan and are preapproved by President Niyazov.
In late 2003 a new law was adopted reducing the powers of the Mejlis and making the Halk Maslahaty the supreme legislative organ. The Halk Maslahaty can now legally dissolve the Mejlis, and the president is now able to participate in the Mejlis as its supreme leader; the Mejlis can no longer adopt or amend the constitution, or announce referendums or its elections. Since the president is both the "Chairman for Life" of the Halk Maslahaty and the supreme leader of the Mejlis, the 2003 law has the effect of making him the sole authority of both the executive and legislative branches of government.
Turkmenistan was until recently a single-party state wherein only the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (Türkmenistanyň Demokratik partiýasynyň) was legally allowed to contest elections. Opposition parties are now legally allowed to form following the adoption of the new Constitution.
There have been political parties and opposition groups in the past – a group named Agzybirlik (Unity) was banned in January 1990. Its members formed the Party for Democratic Development which was itself banned in 1991. This led a coalition for democratic reform named Gengesh (Conference).
The latest opposition party operates in exile and is named The Republican Party of Turkmenistan (Türkmenistanyň Respublikan partiýasynyň). Since all opposition was banned within Turkmenistan, it was forced to form and operate from abroad.