Turkmenistan: President Bags Huge But Implausible Election Win
As had been widely anticipated, Turkmenistan’s president has not only won the presidential election, but has done so with a stratospheric majority, despite his nation’s sinking economy.
In light of the intensely authoritarian nature of the country, it is no surprise that Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov should have got 97.69 percent of the vote. And the turnout was high too.
“The 97.27 percent turnout indicates a high degree of civic involvement by the population and demonstrates its conscious desire to participate directly in democratic reforms in Turkmenistan,” an election official was quoted as saying by the state news agency.
The figures are grimly comical and news websites run by exiled Turkmens have argued convincingly that they are deeply fraudulent. It is perhaps worth dwelling upon them in passing for the intended symbolism, however.
Berdymukhamedov has, going by the official election figures, become only more popular with every passing election.
In February 2007, in the wake of the sudden death of President Sapamurat Niyazov, a still-diffident Berdymukhamedov was declared the election winner with a relatively modest 89.2 percent of the vote, and a 95 percent turnout. He bettered that performance by getting 97.14 percent of the vote, with a 96.7 percent turnout, in February 2012.
And since the size of the electorate has, according to official figures, risen from around 2.6 million in 2007 to 3.22 million people registered for this weekend’s vote, so that represents not just a proportional increase in would-be favorability, but also a hefty jump in outright support.
With this result, Berdymukhamedov will not be troubled by need for election shenanigans until 2024 — a recent change to the constitution increased the duration of presidential terms from five to seven years.
It is anybody’s guess what Turkmenistan will look like then.
But here are some more figures to contend with.
The number of countries buying natural gas from Turkmenistan as of earlier this year — one (China).
Price that China reportedly pays Turkmenistan for that gas — $185 per 1,000 cubic meters, a figure substantially lower than what Western Europe, for example, pays for its gas imports from suppliers like Russia.
Amount of natural gas exported by Turkmenistan in 2014 and 2015, respectively — 41.6 billion cubic meters and 38.1 billion cubic meters (an 8 percent drop year-on-year).
Proportion of government spending believed to be accounted for by natural gas revenue — 85 percent.
This all paints a grim picture for the government, which has increasingly had to entertain notions of scrapping the generous welfare system that has underpinned much of the state's residual credibility.
Unless Berdymukhamedov implements radical changes, it looks certain he will be on course for a 99 percent election victory in 2024 while swaths of his population sink ever deeper into economic hardship.