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Turkmenistan sees 91% turnout in first 'multiparty' vote

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Turkmenistan reported near-unanimous turnout today of 91.3 per cent in the reclusive Central Asian state's first multiparty elections, which still featured no opposition to trouble the dominance of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.

Nearly three million voters in the natural gas-rich former Soviet nation chose 125 candidates for the seats in the Majlis, or parliament, for the next five years.

Challenging the ruling Democratic Party of Turkmenistan is the Party of Industrialists and Businessmen of Turkmenistan, founded in August 2012 as a political alternative but still seen as pro-Berdymukhamedov.

The was the first in the country monitored by a delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in (OSCE), which visited polling stations today.

However, both the assembly and the human rights office (ODIHR) of the European security body said they would not issue a report before February.

Speaking on the eve of the election, Berdymukhamedov, known locally as "Arkadag" or "Protector", said the polls would "demonstrate the extent of developing democracy and civil society in our country".

But there was no sign of genuine dissent in the election campaigns. Almost all opposition groups are based abroad, and their leaders fear arrest if they return to Turkmenistan.

At a polling station in one of the capital's universities, 18-year-old Aman Garlyev said he was casting a ballot for the first time and knew exactly whom to vote for.

"We had a special lesson in our college to help us young voters to understand the importance of the polls. I will support the course of our dear Arkadag," he told AFP.

Another voter casting a ballot in the village of Kipchak 10 kilometres from the capital said he hoped that the new party would better represent him.

"I hope the Party of Industrialists and Businessmen will fight for the interests of rural people and small business," the 43-year-old Geldy Byashimov said after visiting a polling station with his family.

However the party, founded after the president renounced his Democratic Party membership in a bid to put himself above party politics, has yet to show the slightest sign of oppositional tendencies.

Berdymukhamedov has embarked on tentative reforms since taking over after the 2006 death of former dictator Saparmurat Niyazov, whose sometimes bizarre rule made the country one of the most isolated in the world.

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