By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has won a new five-year term in office following a landslide election victory.
The Central Election Commission declared Berdymukhammedov the victor of the February 12 election, saying he captured more than 97 percent of the vote. Officials said more than 96 percent of registered voters cast ballots.
The outcome is seen as unsurprising in the autocratic, energy-rich Central Asian nation, where Berdymukhammedov was facing off against seven token opponents and the election process was viewed largely as a formality.
The second-place finisher, Energy and Industry Minister Yarmukhammet Orazgulyev, won just 1.2 percent.
No Western observers were invited to monitor the voting.
The head of an observer mission from the Commonwealth of Independent States, CIS Executive Secretary Sergei Lebedev, said he received no complaints of irregularities.
Lebedev said his “heart rejoiced” at an electoral process that showed no sign of sliding into the social unrest seen in Libya and Egypt.
Independent journalist Ashirkuly Bayriev told RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service that he saw indications of what he believed was possible multiple-voting while he was casting his ballot at an Ashgabat polling station.
“I saw a person carrying several passports. I figured that, based on all those passports, he was planning to get ballots to vote on behalf of all of his family members,” Bayriev said.
The Turkmen Constitution prevents voters from casting more than one ballot each. Bayriev said local observers were at the polling station but did not question the man or prevent him from voting.
A carnival atmosphere accompanied the election, with dancers, singers, and free gifts planted outside polling booths to divert voters waiting in freezing temperatures.
Even so, official turnout fell somewhat short of perfection, with just under 97 percent of registered voters coming to the polls. An RFE/RL correspondent in Ashgabat who did not participate in the vote reported on February 13 he had been contacted by a local official asking him to explain his absence.
Berdymukhammedov has sought to cement his political power since coming to the presidency in 2006 following the death of longtime leader Saparmurat Niyazov.
While viewed as less authoritarian than his predecessor, Berdymukhammedov is seen as equally thorough in his crackdown on free speech and the political opposition.