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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 December, 2004, 17:22 GMT
Turkmenistan's 'sham poll' closes
A woman votes in Ashgabat - Mr Niyazov's statue is seen in the background
Saparmurat Niyazov has a tight hold over the daily life of Turkmens
The authorities in Turkmenistan have said nearly 80% of voters took part in parliamentary elections where no opposition candidate was standing.

Turkmens were choosing 50 members of what is seen as a powerless parliament.

In what foreign diplomats call a hollow process, all 131 candidates offered support to President Niyazov, known as Turkmenbashi or Leader of Turkmens.

Turnout must exceed the 50%-mark for the poll to be valid, and local reports said turnout was low in some areas.

Correspondents singled out the capital, Ashgabat, where officials carried ballot boxes from door to door in search of votes.

'Sham poll'

Polls closed at 1800 local time (1300 GMT) across the former Soviet republic. Soon afterwards, Turkmen election officials said 76.88% of eligible voters - or 1.9 million people - had cast their ballots.

We have other things to worry about... I didn't even know about any elections
Lyudmila, voter

No foreign observers attended the voting, as Turkmen officials had said earlier the poll's fairness would be ensured by some 200 of the country's own monitors.

Photographs of the candidates - all members of Mr Niyazov's Democratic Party - were posted all over Ashgabat, the BBC's Central Asia correspondent Monica Whitlock says.

Each photograph was the same size, bearing identical lettering - a clear indication that officials were behind what diplomats call a sham campaign, our correspondent says.

Final results are expected on Monday morning, reports say.


The election is one of several instruments of control in an ever-more authoritarian state.

In Turkmenistan, internal banishment is a common punishment, generally to the bleak salt flats along the Caspian coast, the Gulf of Garabogaz, our correspondent says.

Several former ministers have been exiled there, accused of disloyalty.

And last week the president even announced that some shepherds had been banished for trying to sell sheep abroad.

Another standard practice is the public humiliation of officials who have fallen out of favour, at which they stand on platforms and confess to crimes before a crowd of onlookers.

The president has a hand in even the smallest details of life.

At one recent public meeting he upbraided the Turkmen Airways pilots for smoking in aircraft cockpits, and ordered that passengers must be served with orange juice.

Turkmenistan is a very isolated country - most of some 4.9 million people there have no access to the outside world or alternative political methods.

To most, going to vote is an expression of conformity. To stay away could mean reprisals, our correspondent says.

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