Turkmen president wins vote

Turkmenistan’s current President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov will rule the country for another seven years after an overwhelming victory in presidential polls this past weekend, writes Vladimir Afanasiev.

Berdymukhamedov collected close to 98% of the overall vote, with turnout in the gas-rich country at a record high of 97%.

The result was widely expected despite authorities allowing eight other candidates to participate in the presidential race.

It will be Berdymukhamedov’s third term in office after replacing Turkmenistan’s long-serving dictator Saparmurat Niyazov at the end of 2006 after his sudden death.

Berdymukhamedov has relaxed some restrictions introduced by Niyazov but his grip on power is just as strong.

He changed the country’s constitution to extend a presidential term to seven years from five years and removed a 70-year age restriction for the president. Berdymukhamedov is currently 59.

Berdymukhamedov has focused his efforts on developing Turkmenistan’s gas industry, where overseas companies and contractors are involved in developing the Galkynysh gas fields.

Diversification of gas export routes has been the president’s priority in his tenure, particularly through a pipeline to China, reducing the country’s dependence on gas transits through Russia.

Berdymukhamedov has also revived the TransAfghan gas pipeline project that calls for a pipeline to be routed through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The TransAfghan gas pipeline will remain a priority in the next two to three years.