Voting has begun in Turkmenistan’s presidential election, with the incumbent President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov expected to easily beat a token opposition and sail to a new term.
Seven candidates are running against the current president, but all are loyal members of the authoritarian, Central Asian nation’s elite, and have made praise of Turkmenistan’s leadership a central pillar of their campaigns, according to the Associated Press.
Berdymukhamedov, a 54-year-old trained dentist, took power after the death of dictator Saparmurat Niyazov at the end of 2006. He was elected to his first term in office weeks later with 89 percent.
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Today’s elections are just the third in Turkmenistan’s post-Soviet history. Polling took place in a festive atmosphere, with bands playing traditional music and voters receiving food and even presents, the Agence France Presse reported.
Berdymukhamedov voted alongside his son, grandson and father Myalikguly Berdymukhamedov, who last week had a police unit named after him.
According to the BBC, the country ranks among the world’s most repressive states, with Berdymukhamedov enjoying absolute power in the secretive, energy-rich country.
Turkmenistan possesses the world’s fourth largest gas reserves and has closed billon dollar deals with China. Human rights organisations have also criticized the EU for its willingness to do business with the regime.
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