Berdymukhamedov wins Turkmenistan election in landslide

President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov speaks in the Turkmenistan capital Ashgabat, 25 October, 2011Image source, AFP
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President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov faced only token opposition

The President of Turkmenistan, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, has been re-elected for another term with a landslide majority.

Election officials said he had secured more than 97% of the vote.

He faced token opposition from seven other candidates in the presidential election on Sunday.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe did not send monitors to the poll after criticising the lack of democratic reform there.

Turkmenistan, a Muslim-majority country of 5.5 million people, is ranked among the world's most repressive states.

An anchor on state television said on Sunday morning that the elections were "the clearest evidence of the irreversibility of the democratic process," according to the AFP news agency.

"Aware of their great responsibility for the future of the motherland, the people will choose the most worthy of the eight candidates," the anchor added.

However, few doubted that Mr Berdymukhamedov will emerge as the winner, the BBC's Rayhan Demytrie said from neighbouring Kazakhstan.

All the other seven candidates praised the 54-year-old trained dentist in their election campaigns, prompting observers to conclude that the poll was a mere formality.

On Sunday, performers in national dress sang his praises at polling stations where food and gifts were reportedly given out to voters.

Personality cult

Mr Berdymukhamedov, the former health minister, promised political reform when he was elected with 89% of the vote in 2007 following the sudden death of his predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov.

Image source, AP
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Observers say the poll is a largely cosmetic exercise

Mr Niyazov had one of the most bizarre cult personalities in the world, our correspondent says.

Months of the year were named after him and other family members; golden statues of him were erected across the country; and his book on Turkmen history and traditions was made compulsory reading in schools.

But, five years into his rule, Mr Berdymukhamedov appears to have followed in Mr Niyazov's footsteps, our correspondent adds.

His portraits can be seen everywhere, he has written several books about herbal medicine and Turkmen horses, and a military unit has been named after his father.

And just like his predecessor, our correspondent notes, Mr Berdymukhamedov keeps spending billions of dollars of public money on grand construction projects, such as a resort of luxury marble-fronted hotels on the Caspian Sea, which are of little immediate benefit for the population.

Turkmenistan has the world's fourth largest natural gas reserves and has signed billion dollar deals with China.

The European Union is also keen to buy Turkmen gas. Human rights groups have criticised the EU for being willing to do business with one of the most repressive regimes in the world.