ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) — Eight candidates are registered to compete in the presidential election in this isolated, energy-rich Central Asian nation, but the all-powerful incumbent's victory is so predictable his opponents are praising him.
State control is absolute in Turkmenistan, a former Soviet state, and the involvement of multiple candidates appears designed to lend a faint democratic veneer to the Feb. 12 vote.
The registration period, which officially ended Wednesday, saw an original 15 candidates whittled down after two applicants withdrew and a further five couldn't produce required documentation. Those left openly state full support for the policies of authoritarian President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov.
Candidate rallies across the country are taking place against the background of large portraits of the president. In his election program, candidate Recep Bazarov, a regional agriculture official, hailed the "wise leadership of the respected President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov."
The perfunctory nature of the vote has left many uninterested, although state-mandated displays of enthusiasm are frequently visible at public events.
"I don't expect any changes, since the incumbent has no serious competitors among the current registered candidates," said Ashgabat resident Aydzhamal, 52, who declined to give his surname for fear of government reprisal.
Berdymukhamedov has run Turkmenistan, a nation rich in natural gas reserves that lies on the border with Iran and Afghanistan, since the sudden death in late 2006 of his erratic predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov.
When he came to power he promised to liberalize the political system, but he has exercised an increasingly arbitrary and personalized style of rule.