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14 Dec, 2008 12:36

Turkmen election under foreign scrutiny

Polling stations have closed in Turkmenistan where voters have been casting their ballots in the first parliamentary election for more than two decades. The President of the gas-rich country, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, has said the election is a key step

The turnout stood at 88.41 per cent or almost 2.5 million, according to the Turkmen Central Election Commission.

However, the population of the former Soviet republic was given little choice in the vote as 90 per cent of the candidates come from the only legally registered party – the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan headed by the president.

The 125-seat parliament gained more power when the country's new constitution was adopted in September.

Western journalists have been prevented from covering the election, but for the first time in Turkmenistan's history, foreign observers have been invited to monitor the process.

Berdymukhamedov came to power after the election in 2006, following the sudden death of the state’s authoritarian ruler, Saparmurat Niyazov, who had developed a personality cult around his leadership.

The new president but, also, introduced a number of reforms. Among them was broadening the oil-rich country’s international contacts, allowing public , which was under strict control under Niyazov.

The presence of foreign observers at the election would have been an impossibility under Niyazov’s rule.

Turkmens living abroad also had the opportunity to vote – 27 polling stations were opened at the Central Asian state’s embassies in other countries.  

Under new legislation, members of parliament will have the right to call for a presidential election and even to remove the president from office. But the final decision must be taken by a referendum.

It’s expected that during its first session, parliament will consider removing words about Turkmenbashi – a name given to former leader Saparmurat Niyazov and which means father of Turkmens – from the national anthem.