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Turkmenistan Election Leaves Voters With Little Choice

Polls have closed in Turkmenistan, the energy-rich Central Asian country seeking to shake its autocratic image, in an election that Western observers say will likely reveal that little has changed for the former Soviet republic. Nearly 90 percent of the country's eligible voters turned out to vote, according to Russian news agencies.

Turkmenistan's election Sunday was held in the wake of a new constitution, which increased the number of parliamentary seats from 65 to 125, and sought to elevate the role of the parliamentary body.

Just two hours after voting began, nearly 30 percent of the 2.5 million eligible voters had already cast their ballots, according to local radio stations.

The country is still in the process of emerging from an era when the cult of personality surrounding former president-for-life Saparmurat Niyazov, reigned supreme, until his 2006 death.

Roughly 90 percent of the 288 candidates are members of the Democratic Party, launched by Niyazov. Pictures of his successor, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov were prominently featured around t he country's voting stations.

Foreign observers mostly come from fellow former Soviet republics, but United Nations election observers were also on hand.

Turkmenistan's ambassador to Russia, Khalanzar Agakhanov said the election shows the voting population's interest in the election.

New York-based Human Rights Watch, has described Turkmanistan as one of the most repressive and authoritarian states in the world, but noted in an assessment last month that the country had made some progress.