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As Officials Tout Success Of Turkmen Elections, Public Apathetic

Voting at a polling station in Ashgabat
(RFE/RL) -- Turkmen state media are hailing the December 14 parliamentary elections as "a new step on the path of strengthening democracy" that offered voters a "wide range of choices."

According to state television, only the best and the brightest ran for the expanded number of seats in the first parliamentary elections held under President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.

"As a necessary condition for the establishment of democratic rule, these elections were organized on a broad alternative basis with openness, and transparency," a state television presenter said.

"The most worthy, pure, and dedicated in their duty to people -- those who deserve the high respect and honor of their compatriots -- ran in the elections to acquire the right to be the deputy of parliament."

The Central Election Commission announced that some 94 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, an improvement over the 76.88 percent that voted in the 2004 parliamentary elections.

And those voters were portrayed by state television as leaving polling stations satisfied:

"Turkmen citizens, teachers, and students participated in the elections in high spirits to vote for the candidates of their choice," one voter told Turkmen TV. "I also learned about the program of the candidate who I selected and came to vote for."

And while there was no assessment from Western election observers -- a small team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was on the ground but will not issue a report -- the head of the CIS monitoring mission, Sergei Lebedev, said voting was free and fair and "in line with the requirements of the local legislation and international norms of elections."

Not Quite So Rosy

But people told RFE/RL's Turkmen Service a different story.

Some lamented the lack of information about the candidates they were voting for. "I do not know anything about the candidates," one voter said. "I went to municipal branch and there were neither pictures of the candidates nor their biography."

Others described curious scenes they witnessed at polling stations.

"One Russian woman asked the election officers about the candidates, because she did not understand Turkmen," one man said. "They told her to vote for whoever she wants right away and not think too much."

And then there were people like the woman who said she felt obligated to vote, but characterized the candidates as only being interested in receiving government positions in order to get rich.

"All the candidates are corrupt. Whomever you visit, they are looking for handouts. It is the same for hospitals, same for schools, same for kindergartens. The government appoints those who are hungry so that they get their fill. And then those that are full get replaced by hungry ones again," the woman said.

"The same goes for ministerial positions. When ministers get fat, they are dismissed with made-up charges and replaced by another angry one," she added. "It's the same stuff everywhere."

The results of the election will not be made public for 10 days, but few in Turkmenistan will be waiting anxiously for the announcement.

Despite appearances of broader representation, with 288 candidates running for 125 seats, voters have learned to expect a parliament totally subordinate to the president.

And with nearly all the candidates coming from the only officially registered political party, the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, or the state-approved Galkynysh (Revival) movement, they can expect the winners to follow the president's wishes.

RFE/RL Turkmen Service Director Oguljamal Yazliyeva and correspondent Allamurad Rahimov contributed to this report