Turkmenistan will on February 12 hold its third presidential election since the death of President Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006.
The outcome of any presidential election in an authoritarian Central Asian country is always known in advance - the ruling dictator is bound to win a crushing victory. In Turkmenistan’s case, the landslide triumph is due from Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.
Berdimuhamedov has served as president of the oppressive Central Asian republic since 2006, when he replaced Niyazov, the country's first post-Soviet president, who had a cult-like status and declared himself the "Head of All Turkmen".
Though he has largely followed his predecessor's example, Berdimuhamedov has reversed some of Niyazov’s most outrageous policies, such as the naming of certain months of the year after family members, attempts at creating ice palaces in what is one of the world’s hottest countries and the banning of all opera performances. Nevertheless Berdimuhamedov has engaged in creating his own personality cult. He has, for instance, published 35 books on topics such as herbal medicine and rugs and has become known for "winning" rigged horse-riding competitions.
Human Rights Watch notes that “there are no free elections in Turkmenistan, nor is there a free media, and citizens cannot freely protest in the street. Turkmenistan is one the world’s few countries that regularly bars thousands of its citizens from traveling abroad”.
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