ASHGABAT, December 15 (RIA Novosti) – More than 91 percent of Turkmenistan’s registered voters came to polling stations on Sunday to cast their ballot in the country’s first ever parliamentary elections that see more than one party competing.
A total of 2,413 polling stations opened in Turkmenistan at 7:00 Moscow time (3:00 a.m. GMT).
According to the country’s election authority, 91.3 percent of the country’s three million registered voters cast their ballot by the time all polling stations closed at 18:00 Moscow time [2.00 p.m. GMT].
A total of 283 candidates nominated by two parties as well as citizens’ groups, trade unions and a women rights group are competing for five-year mandates in the 125-seat parliament.
However, all of the parties and groups are loyal to the current leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.
The Turkmen leader earlier described the polls as a democratic milestone for the Caspian nation of about 5 million.
Berdymukhamedov came to power in 2007, succeeding the late Saparmurat “Turkmenbashi” Niyazov, who created an elaborate personality cult complete with statues of himself, some of them gold-plated, around Turkmenistan’s cities.
Although Berdymukhamedov largely continued the authoritarian rule of his predecessor, he officially scrapped in 2012 the one-party system that existed in the country since it proclaimed independence in 1991.
The Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, the country’s second political party, was established later that year. It pledges loyalty to Berdymukhamedov and is described by Amnesty International as “the government’s ally rather than as a contender to power.”
Earlier this year, Berdymukhamedov announced that in a bid to promote democracy he would quit as a leader of the pro-presidential Democratic Party, a successor to the Soviet Communist Party.
The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights has sent to Ashgabat its observer mission comprising 15 representatives from 14 member states.
The official results of the vote are to be announced within a week.
Turkmenistan is one of the nine “worst of the worst” countries on human rights issues, according to US-based rights watchdog Freedom House. In the Economist Democracy Index of 167 nations, Turkmenistan is ranked among the seven worst countries.
“Holding these elections will not address the atmosphere of total repression, denial of the basic human rights, and the all-permeating fear that has gripped society in Turkmenistan for years, and all pretense of progress is simply deceitful,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia program director.