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Page last updated at 15:42 GMT, Sunday, 14 December 2008

Turkmens hold parliamentary poll

By Rayhan Demytrie
BBC Central Asia correspondent

A man casts his ballot in a polling station in Ashgabat
Officials said nearly 90% of the 2.5 million eligible voters cast their ballot

The people of Turkmenistan have voted in the first parliamentary election held after the adoption of a new constitution earlier this year.

The Central Election Commission said that turnout was almost 90%.

It was the first poll to be held under President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who has promised to end the Central Asian nation's international isolation.

The authorities say the vote is an important democratic step, but critics question the validity of the process.

Almost all of the 288 candidates running for 125 seats in the parliament came either from Turkmenistan's sole political party, the Democratic Party, or state-affiliated organisations.

All candidates were funded by the state as alternative funding was banned.

Ethnic minorities, such as the sizeable Uzbek community, were not permitted to nominate their own candidates.

International observers

There was no shortage of voters in the parliamentary elections in Turkmenistan, the former Soviet republic which borders the Caspian Sea.

According to the country's Central Election Commission the turnout was extremely high. Almost all of the 2.5 million people eligible cast their votes, reports said.

Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov - 5/11/2007
President Berdymukhamedov has promised more reforms to come
State media proudly reported that Turkmen citizens living abroad were able to vote for the first time at Turkmen embassies and consulates.

Officials are keen to demonstrate that these elections are part of Turkmenistan's process of democratisation.

International observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe were invited to monitor the poll. They are not expected to give any formal assessment of the election proceedings.

Previously, Turkmenistan had a People's Council whose 2,507 members had to be approved by the country's late ruler, Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in 2006 after 21 years in power.

The new leader, Mr Berdymukhamedov, a former dentist, has introduced a number of measures to modernise the gas-rich nation, after years of isolation under his predecessor.

Abolishing the People's Council and reinstating the country's parliament was one of them.

However the country remains largely closed to the outside world.



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