Election officials in the Central Asian state of Turkmenistan recorded a near-unanimous turnout in the country's presidential election on February 12.
The Election Commission said 96.28 percent of the country's 3 million eligible voters had cast their ballots by the time polls closed.
Incumbent President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov is nearly certain to defeat the seven relatively unknown candidates who were running against him.
Berdymukhammedov appeared at an Ashgabat polling station accompanied by his father, his son, and his grandson. Berdymukhammedov allowed his father to exercise his constitutional right as the elder in the family and vote first.
The poll marked only the third time in more than 20 years of independence that Turkmenistan has held a presidential election, and only the second time when there has been more than one candidate running.
“I voted for our current president, Gurbanguly [Berdymukhammedov]. There is no other candidate," a voter in Lebap Province told RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service on condition of anonymity.
"I saw one individual voting on behalf of his entire family," the voter continued. "It’s not something new. I haven’t seen any other irregularities. Compared to previous elections, the organization was better. A concert is taking place in the polling station where I voted, shopping kiosks are installed, medical professionals are on duty, and police inspectors are monitoring.”
Berdymukhammedov, who enjoys the support of the country's only political party – the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan – won the first alternative election held in 2007, less than two months after his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, died.
Analysts say Berdymukhammedov has done little to fulfill campaign promises he made in 2007, such as loosening the strict controls over society put in place by Niyazov or allowing other political parties to be registered. He has pledged to improve living standards if he is reelected.
Voter Khurma Gul, from Serdarabad district in Lebap Province, said she is hopeful the situation will change one day.
“I have participated for the first time in the election. I have voted despite that I know who is going to win," she told RFE/RL. "Nothing depends upon the [wishes] of the ordinary people in the election. I believe the time will come when real democratic elections will be held in our country. Then people will nominate and choose their own leader. I sincerely believe in this.”
Turkmenistan's vast reserves of natural gas -- the third-largest in the world -- provide the government with huge revenues and often mitigate criticism from Western governments seeking new sources of energy supplies.
International rights organizations continue to criticize the Turkmen government for its failure to respect human rights or undertake democratic reforms.
No Western election observers monitored the vote, but monitors from the Commonwealth of Independent States were in the country.
With agency reports