Turkmen president re-elected with 97 % of the vote

Tue 14 Feb 2012

Turkmen president re-elected with 97 % of the vote

On 13 February the Central Election Commission of Turkmenistan announced that with 97 % of the votes the incumbent President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has won a new five-year term in office. The outcome is seen as unsurprising in the autocratic, energy-rich Central Asian nation, where Berdymukhammedov was facing off against seven opponents and the election process was viewed largely as a formality. Only Russian observers were invited to monitor the voting.

‘Arkadag’
President Berdymukhammedov is since 2007 the political leader of Turkmenistan, following the death of the former president Saparmurat Niyazov. He uses the honorific title Arkadag, meaning "Patron" or protector. Berdymukhammedov is president, prime minister and commander of the armed forces; in sum the undisputed leader of a country holding 4 % of the world’s gas reserves.

Turkmenistan’s first president after independence in 1991, Saparmurat Niyazov, took the sobriquet Turkmenbashi, or Father of All Turkmens, and renamed a city and the month of January after himself. When he succeeded Mr. Niyazov in 2007, Mr. Berdymukhammedov hinted at a need for reform, but the pace since then has been slow, and a new cult of personality took hold. Berdymukhammedov is seen as equally thorough in his crackdown on free speech and the political opposition as his predecessor. For instance, Turkmenistan still has one political party, dissent is not tolerated, and free speech is virtually non-existent. Also the only political opposition has long lived in exile.

Progress?
By the standards of Turkmenistan the presidential election did represent progress. It was the second election in the country’s post-Soviet history to feature more than one candidate, and the result was not unanimous. Leading up to the election seven other candidates took part in a campaign dominated by images and slogans of the incumbent president. However, all the candidates were from the same, in fact the only, political party, the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan. Also all of Berdymukhamedov's seven opponents praised his leadership in their campaigns, making the authoritarian leader's victory a formality.

The Central Election Commission declared Berdymukhammedov the victor of the election, saying he captured more than 97 % of the votes. Officials said more than 96 % of registered voters cast ballots. The second-place finisher, Energy and Industry Minister Yarmukhammet Orazgulyev, won just 1.2 %. The results give Mr. Berdymukhammedov another five-year term as president of Turkmenistan.

And yet another dictator
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) declined to send an observation mission to the presidential election after concluding its presence was unnecessary given limited freedoms and the lack of political competition. Human Rights Watch has as well criticised "draconian restrictions" on media and religious freedoms in the mainly Muslim country.

Sources
: Radio Free Europe, The New York Times, Reuters, The Guardian
Image by Flickr Kerri-Jo