The former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan reported a high turnout of voters at its extraordinary presidential elections held this past weekend across the country, but authorities said the counting of votes in remote constituencies has yet to be completed before a winner can be announced.

According to authorities, more than 97% out of about 3.3 million registered voters arrived at polling stations to cast their ballots.

According to an official announcement on Tuesday,outgoing President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s sons, Serdar, 40, has collected almost 73% the votes, giving him an overwhelming victory.

The eight other candidates involved had little time to arrange proper campaigns for an election that was announced just over one month ago, following the sudden resignation in February of Berdymukhamedov, who ruled the country since 2007.

According to a report by the Organisation for Security & Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) released earlier this month, the Turkmenistan president enjoys sweeping powers, is directly elected for a seven-year term and has no constitutional term limits.

“Reports of international bodies have repeatedly raised concerns about the lack of political pluralism and undue limitations on the exercise of fundamental human rights,” OSCE said.

“There is no centralised voter register, and the law does not provide for sufficient guarantees against multiple registration or multiple voting,” it added.

Observers have reported barely-concealed ballot stuffing, with news outlet Turkmen.news pointing out that even during televised reports, single voters were seen casting several ballots .

Despite serving in various public posts since 2013, Serdar Berdymukhamedov has kept a low profile and it is not clear whether he will continue ruling the country in the authoritarian style of his father.

Despite its huge gas reserves, second only to Russia, Turkmenistan has remained one of the most closed countries in Central Asia since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Though Ashgabat has remained silent on the ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine, the country is increasingly looked on by observers as a potential additional source of natural gas for Europe.

Since 1991, Turkmenistan has repeatedly asked the international energy community to consider building a subsea gas pipeline from its Caspian Sea shore to a receiving terminal near the Azerbaijan capital of Baku.

The proposed 330-kilometre pipeline would carry at least 30 billion cubic metres per annum of gas and connect to Southern Gas Corridor trunkline system in Azerbaijan.

The Southern Gas Corridor consists of the South Caucasus and Trans Adriatic pipelines, whch carry gas from the foreign-operated Shah Deniz offshore gas field to Europe.

Turkmenistan has been reported as producing at an annual rate of between 70 Bcm and 80 Bcm of natural gas in recent years, with about half of that volume exported.

The country’s largest deposit — the Galkynysh asset developed by China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) — is understood to host estimated in-place reserves of over 27 Bcm of gas.

According to CNPC, Turkmenistan delivered about 34 Bcm of gas to China in 2021 via a dedicated gas trunkline network running across Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

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