The farce of the Turkmen elections
by Vladimir Rozanskij

Authorities claim a 97% turnout. Independent observers: ballots replaced to establish the "right level" of preferences for Serdar Berdymuhamedov, the designated successor to his father Gurbanguly. Empty promises for a country in economic crisis for 15 years.


Moscow (AsiaNews) - The results of the early presidential elections in Turkmenistan are still being verified. According to official statements, 97% of the voters took part in the March 12 vote. The few independent sources of information, however, speak of widespread fraud, in order to bring the results to the desired plebiscitary level of the "democratic" succession between father and son Berdymuhamedov.

According to these sources, the night after the election, ballot papers bearing the preference of the 'wrong' candidates were replaced at the polling stations. An observer from Azatlyk in the administration of one of the velayats (provinces) said that, after the polling stations closed at 7 p.m., the authorities sent instructions not to close the count until the 'right level' of preferences for Serdar Berdymuhamedov had been established: apparently there were too many votes for the alternative candidates. Only after corrections were made did the offices in charge start sending the results to the centre in Ašgabat.

Many violations had already leaked out while voting was in progress, such as the delivery of ballot papers, printed on plain paper, not according to the passport, but according to the calculations of relatives, even if the voter was alone. One of Azatlyk's anonymous sources in the capital says that 'they gave me three, I said I had other relatives and they gave me more, if I had asked for the dog and cat I would have got them without objections'. A photo of the 'supplementary' bulletins was sent to confirm this.

In the velayat of Lebap, an 11-year-old boy came to vote for his whole family, holding the passports of his parents who could not come because they were too busy: 'They phoned us from the election office and said that any member of the family could come'. The agency published a video from an unbroadcast state television station showing a voter throwing a large packet of ballot papers into the ballot box.

The very high turnout was actually concentrated almost only at the beginning of voting day, between 7 and 11 am, when masses of students and workers were driven to the polls by trucks and collective vehicles. The Election Committee said that by 12 noon 51% had voted, with the rest arriving in the afternoon, but many observers confirmed that after midday the polling stations remained almost empty until the evening. Civil servants mostly voted in the remote mode, in the days before, under penalty of reprimands from the leadership.

However, the 'designated' candidate Serdar has already set out his government programme at length, without questioning its implementation. He intends to achieve comprehensive 'modernisation of the state and private sectors, increase employment throughout the country, invest in private enterprise, in small and medium-sized enterprises, in the tourism sector'.

As all analysts point out, these are "standard" promises in any country in the world, and very few expect big changes from Berdymuhamedov the son.

The programme vaguely mentions the 'problem of unemployment' and the poor standard of living of the population, while being careful not to make any critical remarks about his father's previous government. It is likely that in the next few days, after the proclamation, Serdar will 'invite' companies to increase employment according to percentages set from above, as was the case during the Soviet five-year plans. The country has been in a deep economic crisis for at least 15 years, right in the years of his father Gurbanguly, who for this very reason has apparently decided to step aside, trying to avoid protests and revolts similar to those in Kazakhstan and other former Soviet countries, although none of them is as rigidly controlled as Turkmenistan.