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Turkmenistan Votes in National Elections Sunday

A woman walks past a board displaying a portrait of Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov in Ashgabat, February 10, 2012.

Voters in Turkmenistan head to the polls on Sunday. They are expected to re-elect President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.

Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov first came into power in 2007. The 54-year-old is called “Arkadag: The Patron” by those who work for him. He is president, prime minister and commander of the armed forces. He has also been given the title “Hero of Turkmenistan” by lawmakers.

Analyst Alexei Mukhin, who is with the Center for Political Information, says that Berdymukhamedov is most likely assured to win because his token political challengers are already his government friends.

He says there are great numbers of candidates who are in opposition to the president, whose personalities are not of great interest to the main electorate groups. And there is the candidate who handles the country's budget, who handles administrative resources. The president feels confident that he will win enough votes to avoid a runoff.

The Central Asian nation holds four percent of the world’s gas reserves and has oilfields in the Caspian Sea. The president has been keen to diversify the country’s gas sales in order to attract investment by engaging foreign governments.

Alexei Mukhin says the president understands that energy resources are the subject of great interest to the country’s potential partners. At the same time, the country can not satisfy everyone in full. All of its partners have claims on Turkmenistan, and this is a factor that destroys the investment climate in the country and makes the regime very vulnerable to external criticism.

Turkmenistan is the most secretive of the post-Soviet countries in Central Asia. Nearly three million Turkmen are allowed to vote, that is about half of the population. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) says it will not send vote monitors to the region due to limited freedoms and lack of political competition.

Five days before registration of presidential candidates ended, a law allowing opposition candidates to register came into force. Analysts say the law will not affect the dominance of the president’s party.