Turkmenistan voted in a token presidential election on Sunday that is certain to extend the rule of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov for another five years.
More than 80 percent of the registered 3 million voters cast their votes for one of eight candidates, according to the Central Election Commission. The election was monitored by 60 observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) representing former Soviet states.
Mr. Berdymukhammedov’s seven rivals are all members of the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, the country's only political party. During the election campaign they called on people to vote for the incumbent.
Mr. Berdymukhammedov, a 55-year-old former dentist, assumed office after the sudden death in December 2006 of Saparmurat Niyazov, who had ruled Turkmenistan for 30 years. The new leader has dismantled the personality cult of his predecessor, lifted the ban on opera and circus and allowed internet. He also restored the election of President by a popular vote (Mr. Niyazov had been proclaimed the leader for life), but stopped short of allowing political pluralism.
Some experts said Mr. Berdymukhammedov has recently moved to promote his own personality cult, accepting last year the title of “Arkadag,” or “Protector” of the desert nation of 5.5 million people.
Under his leadership Turkmenistan, which holds the world’s fourth largest gas reserves, diversified its exports, building a pipeline to China and stepping up gas sales to Iran in the face of Russia’s refusal to continue to buy Turkmen gas at European prices.
Mr. Berdymukhammedov has vigorously lobbied for building the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakististan-India pipeline presiding over the signing of a framework TAPI agreement in December 2010.
Ties between India and Turkmenistan have picked up in recent years, with Vice-President Hamid Ansari visiting Ashgabat in 2008 and Mr. Berdymukhammedov rendering an official visit to India in 2010.