Turkmenistan votes for new, opposition-free parliament

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A woman wearing a national costume casts her ballot at a polling station in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, Sunday, March 26, 2023. Voters in Turkmenistan have cast ballots for a new parliament that is expected to be opposition-free and loyal to the government of the gas-rich Central Asian nation. Sunday's election for 125 members included 258 candidates, put forward by three political parties or running independently. (AP Photo/Alexander Vershinin)

ASHGABAT – Voters in Turkmenistan cast ballots Sunday for a new parliament that is expected to have no members of opposition parties and be loyal to the government of the gas-rich Central Asian nation.

The election for 125 members included 258 candidates, put forward by three political parties or running independently. All of them support President Serdar Berdymukhamedov.

Berdymukhamedov, 41, was elected last March to succeed his father, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who had run the isolated ex-Soviet country for more than a decade.

Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov came to power after the death of the eccentric Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006 and established a pervasive personality cult similar to that of his predecessor. Under his rule, Turkmenistan has remained difficult for outsiders to enter. It has also struggled to diversify its economy, which is overwhelmingly dependent on its vast natural gas reserves.

The elder Berdymukhamedov has cultivated an image of robust health with media stunts that included firing a pistol at a man-sized target while riding a bicycle and hoisting a gold weightlifting bar, to the applause of his Cabinet. He has the title “Arkadag,” or Protector, and last year stepped down, giving way for his son to assume office.

Earlier this year, Serdar Berdymukhamedov appointed his father to be the chairman of Halk Maslahaty, or People’s Council, the country's supreme representative body. The People’s Council has the power to change the country’s constitution and determine the main guidelines of domestic and foreign policies, giving Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov powerful levers to shape the country’s course.

Loud patriotic music played at polling stations in the capital and dance troupes performed. Although the central elections commission reported that 91% of the electorate turned out, there did not appear to to be long lines at the voting stations.

Some who showed up were enthusiastic.

“Election day is a holiday for us. I would like to see such classy holidays as often as possible,” said Arzygul Bekmuradova, a teacher.

Others took a dim view.

“Aside from the biographies of the candidates in the Turkmen language, I didn't see any other information about their platforms. I don't even know who I voted for," said a voter who gave his name only as Begenc.

Both Berdymukhamedovs voted at the same polling station. In remarks shown on state television, the elder one said most of the candidates were representatives of the youth.

“The fact that the youth contingent prevails in the composition of the deputy corps allows us to work out the national legislative and legal framework in accordance with the existing realities and the identified prospects," he said.

The results were expected to be announced within several days.