In a referendum in October 1991, an overwhelming majority (94 per cent) voted for independence. The Declaration of State Independence of Turkmenistan was adopted on 27 October 1991.
On 18 May 1992, the Supreme Soviet of Turkmenistan adopted a new constitution providing for a presidential form of government. On 21 June 1992, Saparmurat Niyazov was elected President on a non-alternative basis (approved by Parliament on 26 June of the same year). On 15 January 1994, following a referendum, Niyazov’s authority was extended (supported by 99.5% of voters), which meant that the presidential elections scheduled for 1997 were cancelled. A growing personality cult contributed to the activation of the protest movement, which culminated in a demonstration in Ashgabat in July 1995 calling for presidential elections. In response, many of Saparmurat Niyazov’s political opponents were arrested, sentenced or sent to psychiatric hospitals.
Elections to the highest legislative body, the Mejlis, were held on 11 December 1994; of the 50 seats, 49 were won mainly by representatives of the ruling Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, confirmed by the President (he was also Chairman of that party), and only one seat in the Mejlis was an alternative.
On 29 December 1999, Turkmenistan’s highest representative body, the Khalk Maslakhaty (People’s Council), adopted constitutional amendments to grant presidential powers to Saparmurat Niyazov without limitation of the term of office (President for life).
According to the official version, an attack on Saparmurat Niyazov was carried out on 25 November 2002: a presidential motorcade on its way to work was fired upon in the centre of Ashgabat from a lorry heading for the crossroads. Saparmurat Niyazov was not injured. According to an unofficial version shared by many experts, the assassination was staged to increase pressure on opponents of the regime, to carry out staff cuts and to cancel the double citizenship agreement with Russia.
Already in the first years the independence of Turkmenistan the personality cult of Saparmurat Niyazov (Mejlis gave him the title Turkmenbashi (“Great Turkmenbashi”), meaning “Father of all Turkmen”) took extreme forms in Turkmenistan. Not only cities, streets, schools and the like, but even months (e.g. January – Turkmenbashi) were named after the president and his relatives. In Ashgabat a huge gilded statue of Saparmurat Niyazov was erected. The object of the cult was the work “Ruhnama” by Saparmurat Niyazov. The last years of the Presidency were marked by the adoption of totally unpredictable decisions. In 2005, for example, many hospitals outside the capital were closed (with the dismissal of several thousand medical staff), pensions were abolished, the Academy of Sciences was dissolved, the education system was reformed (e.g. university education was changed to four years, including two internships) and the like.
Saparmurat Niyazov died on 21 December 2006 and Deputy Prime Minister Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov became interim acting President (contrary to the Constitution, which provides for the transfer of powers from the Head of State to the Chairman of the Majlis in such cases). On 14 February 2007, Mr Berdymukhammedov was elected President of Turkmenistan (to this end, the Constitution was provisionally amended to allow him to participate in the elections as acting President).