Ashgabat, amid poverty and repression, Berdimuhamedov elected president for a third time

The 59-year old president won 97.69 per cent of the vote for a new, seven-year term. According to the World Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders (RSF), Turkmenistan ranks 178th out of 180 countries. Many detained independent journalists are held incommunicado.

Ashgabat (AsiaNews) – In yesterday’s elections, incumbent Turkmen President and Democratic Party leader Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov was re-elected president for the third time.

According to the Central Election Commission, the 59-year-old won 97.69 per cent of the vote, beating his eight rivals hands down.

During the election campaign, the other candidates never criticised the government and always remained loyal to Berdimuhamedov.

The third term – unlike the previous two – will run for seven years following last year’s constitutional amendment that removed the age limit for candidates (70 years old) and extended the term of office from five to seven years.

During the election campaign Berdimuhamedov said that if he was elected, he would continue improving the country’s welfare.

Yet, since 2007, President Berdimuhamedov began to increase the price for gas, electricity, water, petrol, hitherto heavily subsidised by the state, and set a maximum for personal consumption.

Over the past ten years, the cost of living has jumped and state subsidies put in place in 1993 under President Saparmurat Niyazov were progressively reduced.

Since 2015, the unemployment rate has been around 10 per cent and is up this year.

Before Berdimuhamedov, Turkmens could count on low prices for utilities, public transport, bread, and mortgage loans for housing.

The repression of freedom of expression is another of Turkmenistan's problems. According to the World Press Freedom Index (WPFI) released by Reporters without Borders (RSF), Turkmenistan ranks 178th out of 180 countries.

Over the past two years, press and journalistic freedom have been further reduced. Turkmen media are all state-controlled whilst independent correspondents for international-based media like Radio Azatlyk, Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN), Chronicles of Turkmenistan, Gündogar and Ferghana have to work underground because of the risk of prison and torture.

Khudayberdy Allashov, a correspondent for Radio Azatlyk, was arrested on 3 December last year on an arbitrary charge of possession of a large quantity of chewing tobacco, a criminal offence in Turkmenistan.

Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, a reporter for ATN and Radio Azatlyk, has been held for the past 18 months. After he was detained in July 2015, he was tried secretly without a lawyer, and was given a three-year jail sentence on a trumped-up charge of drug possession.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has described his imprisonment as arbitrary, and called on Turkmen authorities to drop the charges against Allashov and Nepeskuliev and release them without delay.