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Turkmenistan's Authoritarian Leader Wins Senate Seat With '100 Percent' Of Vote

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov

Turkmenistan’s authoritarian leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has been elected as a member of a newly established senate, in a vote in which there was no opposition and only indirect suffrage.

State media in the tightly controlled and isolated Central Asian state reported Berdymukhammedov received "100 percent" of the vote in the March 29 election, giving him a new position as a lawmaker in the upper chamber.

The 63-year-old is already president and head of government of a state built around his cult of personality.

State media said the election was “clear evidence of Turkmenistan's democratic progress and the triumph of decisive reforms carried out by our national leader.”

The election was the first for the upper chamber, or People's Council, since constitutional amendments in September 2020 made parliament bicameral.

State media reported 112 registered candidates vied for the 48 seats available in the upper chamber, stressing the elections were "fair" and monitored by "independent" domestic observers. Eight members of the upper house will also be appointed by Berdymukhamedov.

The elections were held by secret ballot through indirect suffrage, with 231 electors from the provinces and capital, Ashgabat, able to vote.

“The elections were held on a competitive basis -- each of the 48 candidates was nominated by 2-3 people who deserved the special respect of our compatriots,” state media reported.

Foreign observers were not allowed to monitor the vote and no opposition candidates were on the ballot in the former Soviet republic, which is considered one of the most repressive countries in the world.

With the exception of turning the parliament into a two-chamber institution, other details of the constitutional changes that Berdymukhammedov signed into the law in September remain largely unknown.

Critics have said that Berdymukhammedov plans to use the constitutional amendments to secure his lifetime presidency and for the eventual succession of his son and grandchildren.

Berdymukhammedov has suppressed dissent and made few changes in the restrictive country since he came to power after the death of autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006.

Like his late predecessor, Berdymukhammedov has relied on subsidized prices for basic goods and utilities to help maintain his grip on power.

Despite being rich in natural gas resources, the country has faced shortages of everything from cash and food to basic necessities in recent years.

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