Turkmenistan leader certain to win third term in vote

AP photo

Turkmen leader Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was certain to secure a third term in office in yesterday's presidential election, maintaining his grip on power in the isolated gas-rich nation. 

Berdymukhamedov, 59, has run the former Soviet republic of five million people with an iron fist for a decade after succeeding equally autocratic president-for-life Saparmurat Niyazov who died in 2006. 

Berdymukhamedov, a dentist by training, has kept in place Niyazov's repressive political system which tolerates no political opposition or public expressions o discontent, while refocusing his predecessor's elaborate personality cult on himself. 

While Niyazov was known as Turkmenbashi, the head of all Turkmen, Berdymukhamedov is often referred to as Arkadag, the protector. Gilded statues of both leaders have been erected in Ashgabat, the capital city. 

Berdymukhamedov cast his ballot at a downtown polling station after arriving with his family, including his son Serdar who last year became a member of parliament after winning a by-election. 

"Turkmenistan's goal is joining the ranks of the industrially developed nations," Berdymukhamedov told reporters, adding that all candidates had had equal opportunities in the election campaign. 

Running against Berdymukhamedov are eight other candidates, all of them public servants, managers of state-owned companies or nominees of political parties completely loyal to the government. In the previous election in 2012, Berdymukhamedov won 97 percent of the vote. 

Turkmenistan has no election threshold, but by 11 a.m. local time, 51.45 percent of voters had already cast their ballots, the Central Election Commission said. 

Last year, Turkmenistan amended its constitution in a...

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