[QODLink]
Central & South Asia
Little choice in Turkmenistan poll
All candidates in the paliamentary election declare support for the president.
Last Modified: 14 Dec 2008 06:44 GMT
Berdymukhammedov has pledged to increase democracy and foreign investment [File: EPA]

Turkmenistan's voters are going to the polls in parliamentary elections portrayed by the government as a step towards democracy in the gas-rich Central Asian nation.

But critics say that Sunday's vote is a sham with all the candidates either representing the ruling Democratic Party, the
only registered party, or a handful of state-approved  independents.

"Beyond all the pompous declarations, there will be no real change,'' Tadzhigul Begmedova, director of the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, said from Bulgaria.

"The hopes many people had that a new president would open up Turkmen society have been shattered.''

Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov became president in 2006 after the death of Saparmurat Niyazov, who forged a personality cult that saw months of the year renamed after himself and his mother, and a spiritual guide he authored become mandatory for students and government workers.

'Pluralism and openess'

Berdymukhamedov rolled back some of the decrees which had celebrated the previous leader and vowed to increase democracy and foreign investment. 

"It does not matter who gets elected. The president has the final say"

Osman-aga,
Camel herder

"This campaign stands out for its pluralism, openness and the activeness of the citizens," an election official told the AFP news agency, requesting anonymity.

In September, the People's Council, a 2,507-member assembly of presidential appointees, town elders and others, voted to abolish itself and cede most of its powers to an expanded parliament.

But more than half of the 288 candidates running for the parliament's 125 seats on Sunday are from the Democratic Party, while the others have been drawn from state-controlled women's and veterans' organisations, trade unions and a youth group.

All of them receive state funding for the campaign as no other form of political funding is allowed under Turkmenistan's laws.

"It does not matter who gets elected. The president has the final say," Osman-aga, who herds camels in a remote desert area, told the Reuters news agency.

Contest 'impossible'

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe has not sent only three observers to monitor the vote, saying a genuine contest was impossible.

Human Rights Watch said in a report last month: "The conditions are not in place to hold a free and fair election that would be a meaningful reflection of the will of the people."

The presence of foreign media also is limited as many journalists were unable to get permission to report there.

The run-up to the election in the former Soviet state has seen little campaigning and garnered little coverage on state-run television.

"There are very few billboards around the city ... I still don't know who I'm supposed to vote for," Maral, a resident of Ashgabat who declined to give her surname for fear of official intimidation, told the Associated Press news agency.

Source:
Agencies
Topics in this article
People
Country
Featured on Al Jazeera
As Western stars re-release 1980s charity hit, many Africans say it's a demeaning relic that can do more harm than good.
At least 25 tax collectors have been killed since 2012 in Mogadishu, a city awash in weapons and abject poverty.
Tokyo government claims its homeless population has hit a record low, but analysts - and the homeless - beg to differ.
3D printers can cheaply construct homes and could soon be deployed to help victims of catastrophe rebuild their lives.
Featured
Pro-Russia leaders' election in Ukraine's east shows bloody conflict is far from a peaceful resolution.
Critics challenge Canberra's move to refuse visas for West Africans in Ebola-besieged countries.
A key issue for Hispanics is the estimated 11.3 million immigrants in the US without papers who face deportation.
In 1970, only two mosques existed in the country, but now more than 200 offer sanctuary to Japan's Muslims.
Hundreds of the country's reporters eke out a living by finding news - then burying it for a price.