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Turkmen President Re-elected with 98 Percent of Vote

Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, center, smiles as he casts his ballot at a polling station in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017. (AP Photo, Alexander Vershinin)
Turkmen President Re-elected with 98 Percent of Vote
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The president of Turkmenistan won re-election with nearly 98 percent of the votes, the country’s election commission reported.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was elected to a third term which will last for seven years. He was first elected president in 2006.

The election results were announced Sunday night by the Central Asian nation’s election commission. The commission said 97 percent of eligible voters turned out to vote.

Berdymukhamedov is a dentist by training. He has kept almost total control over the former Soviet republic of 5.3 million people. He replaced Saparmurat Niyazov as president following his death in 2006.

Berdymukhamedov has largely kept in place Niyazov's repressive political system. The country blocks most political opposition and public protest.

Early in his presidency, Berdymukhamedov ordered some reforms. He brought back foreign languages to schools, and expanded required schooling from nine years to 12 years. He reopened hospitals closed down by former President Niyazov.

Berdymukhamedov also cancelled some of Niyazov’s unusual rules, such as bans against opera and gold teeth.

Turkmenistan's official news organization reported that international observers found only minor voting problems, which did not affect the election results.

But Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported that two days before the election, students were filling in ballots in favor of Berdymukhamedov.

The ballots were put in ballot boxes for people who did not show up to vote, according to a person at the school.

Independent election monitors have not declared any of Turkmenistan’s elections free or fair since the country gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

A Turkmen woman dressed in traditional costume casts her ballot in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
A Turkmen woman dressed in traditional costume casts her ballot in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

Eight candidates ran against Berdymukhamedov. But all were mostly unknown and their campaigns received little attention from the government-run news service.

Michal Romanowski is with the German Marshall Fund. He said, “Every election in the past 25 years has been rigged and there is no real opposition in the country.” He added that independent news reporting is mostly unavailable to Turkmenistan residents.

Berdymukhamedov is known in Turkmenistan as Arkadag, which means “the protector” in English.

But he has not been able to keep his country’s economy strong. It has been hurt by low global energy prices.

According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, many government employees are not being paid on time. Shortages are reported for products such as cooking oil, sugar and medicine. This has led to large price increases paid by Turkmenistan residents.

During the election, the government ordered private traders to lower food prices, according to merchants and residents.

On Monday, Vladimir Putin congratulated the re-elected Turkmenistan president.

He said, “The election’s outcome confirms your high level of political influence, wide recognition for all you have accomplished while in office as president, and support for your policy of continued efforts to strengthen Turkmenistan’s economy and raise living standards.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, meets with Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov last year in Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, meets with Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov last year in Russia.

VOA News reported on this story. Bruce Alpert adapted this story for Learning English with additional reporting. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

eligible - adj. able to do or receive something

opera - n. a kind of performance in which actors sing all or most of the words of a play with music performed by an orchestra

teeth - n. plural of tooth, used by people to chew food

monitor - n. a person who has the job of checking or watching some activity or behavior

rigged - adj. a corrupt system in which the results are pre-determined

accomplished - v. what a person has done, or achieved

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