ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) — Turkmenistan's incumbent president has won re-election in a widely anticipated landslide victory, election authorities said on Monday.
Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov garnered nearly 97.7 percent of the vote in the gas-rich Central Asian nation, Election Commission chairman Gulmurat Muradov told reporters. Muradov said the results from Sunday's election are preliminary and that election authorities still have to count ballots cast in Turkmenistan's embassies abroad.
The commission said turnout exceeded 97 percent of the electorate for the election, the first to feature candidates from non-government parties on the central Asian country's ballot.
The eight other candidates in the race had all expressed support for Berdymukhamedov's government, however.
Authorities in Turkmenistan have secured acceptance among the country's 5 million people through a combination of authoritarianism and generous welfare subsidies, such as free household gas and salt.
Berdymukhamedov has been the overwhelmingly dominant figure in the former Soviet republic since late 2006, when he assumed power after the death of his eccentric predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov.
The country last year amended the constitution to extend the presidential term to seven years from five, and eliminated the age limit of 70, effectively allowing Berdymukhamedov to be president for life.
Under Berdymukhamedov, a law was adopted to allow non-government parties, although such parties are strictly vetted. The candidates nominally competing with Berdymukhamedov were allowed to meet with voters in theaters and cultural centers, but the encounters were not televised and no debates were held.