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Turkmenistan re-elects strongman with 97% of vote

13 february 2012, 19:09
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Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. ©AFP
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. ©AFP
Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov Monday scored a massive re-election victory with over 97 percent of votes in a poll where his uncritical rivals served only to make up the numbers, AFP reports.

Berdymukhamedov scored 97.14 percent of the votes in Sunday's election, the head of the energy-rich nation's central election commission Orazmurat Niyazliev told reporters, based on almost 97 percent of the votes counted.

"The President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov had been re-elected after winning the most votes," he said.

Seven candidates stood against the president, who took power after the death in 2006 of eccentric dictator Saparmurat Niyazov, but all were loyal members of the elite who did not sound the slightest note of criticism in the campaign.

The second place candidate, according to the preliminary count, was Energy and Industry Minister Yarmukhammet Orazgulyev who managed to win just 1.2 percent of the votes.

Crushing election victories by incumbent presidents with scores well into the nineties have become a familiar tale in the ex-Soviet Central Asian states, which are largely run by unchallenged strongmen.

Berdymukhamedov's counterpart in neighbouring Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, last year secured over 95 percent of the vote in a presidential election to win a new term.

Turkmen election officials hailed a national turnout of 96.7 percent, meaning that almost all of the country's electorate of just under three million cast their ballots.

"This is a great number and we are happy for this. Everyone has supported our open election," said Niyazliev.

The elections were just the third in Turkmenistan's post-Soviet history: Niyazov won a notorious ballot in 1992 in which he was the sole candidate with 99.5 percent and was then declared president for life by parliament in 1999.

Berdymukhamedov's rating on Sunday was an improvement from his already stratospheric results from the last presidential poll in 2007, where he scored over 89 percent.

An ex-dentist who became Niyazov's health minister after rising through the ranks of the dental profession, Berdymukhamedov has promised reform in the isolated state but major change has so far not materialised.

In a half decade dubbed "Era of Rebirth", Berdymukhamedov has moderated the excesses of Niyazov's bizarre personality cult which extended to installing a golden statue of himself in Ashgabat that rotated to always face the sun.

But with his image ubiquitous across the country in locations ranging from theatres to the cabins of the national airline, Berdymukhamedov has also been accused of creating a personality cult of his own.

As Niyazov called himself "Turkmenbashi" (Father of All Turkmens), Berdymukhamedov is known as the "Arkadag" (Protector).

Turkmenistan issued no invitation for Western observers to assess the elections on a full-scale mission while human rights workers and journalists have also been denied access to the country.

Amnesty International said ahead of the polls that Turkmenistan was still perpetrating "serious human rights violations" including torture in jails and severe restrictions on political and religious expression.

But Turkmenistan's tightly-controlled state media earlier hailed the election as a historic chapter in the history of the country.

"It is already possible now to say that they proceeded on a firm democratic basis and have placed a new branch in the history of the independent Turkmen state," said the government mouthpiece newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan.

State television added: "An especially lively and triumphant atmosphere prevailed at all the polling stations in the country."

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