Turkmenistan Polls Seen As Cosmetic

Turkmenistan's first multi-candidate presidential elections are nothing but a farce as interim president Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov is a foregone winner, analysts and independent monitors said.

Turkmenistan Polls Seen As Cosmetic

"The only intrigue in the Turkmen elections is the figure with which Berdymykhammedov will win ... and how close that will be to 100 percent," Arkady Dubnov, a Russian expert on Central Asia, wrote in Vremya Novostei, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.

Berdymukhammedov is widely expected to trounce five other little-known candidates on a platform of social and even political reform.

The elections were called in December 2006 when former president Saparmurat Niyazov died suddenly after 21 years in power.

A longtime Niyazov loyalist, Berdymukhammedov recently called for reforms, including an eventual end to the one-party system and allowing access to the Internet.

He has also vowed to provide greater economic opportunity though analysts predict slow political change.

Final results are to be announced early on Tuesday, February 13, and the inauguration of the new president will take place the following the day.

According to provisional figures following the closure of polling stations, turnout was 98.68 percent of the 2.6 million eligible voters.

Sunday's vote was closely watched by China, Russia and Western powers because of Turkmenistan's growing importance as a major natural gas supplier in a strategic region.

The central Asian country gained independence after the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991.

Although it boasts the world's fifth largest natural gas reserves as well as substantial oil resources, Turkmenistan has a rate of poverty hitting 58 percent of its mostly Muslim six-million population.

Not Fair

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the Sunday's vote was neither fair nor free.

"They may hardly be called elections and they were absolutely not free and fair," observer Joao Soares told Reuters.

"What we saw does not correspond to the standards of the OSCE," he said.

There was only a symbolic international observer presence from the OSCE and access for foreign journalists was highly restricted.

It was the first time a team from the OSCE was invited to an election in Turkmenistan, although not as official observers. The OSCE is a pan-European human rights body.

Many Turkmens hope that Berdymukhammedov, a trained dentist who survived numerous purges of Niyazov's government, will draw a line under the 21 years of iron-fisted rule by Niyazov.

However, analysts caution that the depth of Niyazov's legacy means any reforms could be extremely slow.

"Turkmen society hopes for change, but is not ready yet," said Atyum Ulunian, a historian at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16