Turkmen incumbent wins big

Turkmen incumbent wins big

Turkmen incumbent wins big

Despite seven candidates running against the president, Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov comfortably received 97 percent of the vote as the second place candidate won 1.2 percent of it. Reuters photo

Turkmenistan’s president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, scored a massive re-election victory Feb. 12 with over 97 percent of the vote in a poll where his uncritical rivals served only to make up the numbers.

Berdimuhamedov, 54, scored 97.14 percent of the vote in the Feb. 12 election, the head of the energy-rich nation’s central election commission, Orazmurat Niyazliev, told reporters, with almost 97 percent of votes counted.

Seven candidates stood against the president, who took power after the death of Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006, but all were loyal members of the elite who did not make criticisms during 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 vote.

Crushing election victories by incumbent presidents with scores well into the 90s have become a familiar tale in the ex-Soviet Central Asian states, which are largely run by unchallenged strongmen. Berdimuhamedov’s counterpart in neighboring Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, secured over 95 percent of the vote in a presidential election to win a new term last year.

At polling stations Feb. 12, performers in national dress danced and sang eulogies to their president, whose word is final in a desert country of 5.5 million people bordering Iran and Afghanistan, Reuters reported. As Niyazov called himself “Turkmenbashi” (Father of All Turkmens), Berdimuhamedov is known as the “Arkadag” (Protector).

High turnout

Turkmen election officials hailed a national turnout of 96.7 percent, meaning that almost all of the country’s electorate of just under 3 million cast their ballots. “This is a great number and we are happy for this. Everyone has supported our open election,” Agence France-Presse quoted Niyazliev as saying. 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.

Berdimuhamedov’s rating on Feb. 12 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, Berdimuhamedov has promised reform in the isolated state but major change has not yet materialized.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) declined to send observers after concluding that its presence would not “add value,” given the limited freedom and lack of political competition. Turkmenistan also issued no invitation for Western observers to assess the elections with a full-scale mission.