Election officials continue to count ballots from Sunday's presidential election in Turkmenistan.  The contest was called to find a replacement for late President Saparmurat Niyazov, who died last December.  VOA's Lisa McAdams in Moscow reports: 

Officials in the isolated Central Asian nation, Turkmenistan, are sifting through piles of ballot papers, attempting to certify which of the six candidates competing in the election will become the next president.

Turkmen authorities earlier declared the vote valid and said it marks a step towards democracy.  But others - like analyst Yevgeni Volk, the director of the Heritage Foundation's Moscow office, say the result is a foregone conclusion.

"These are elections where the result is easy to forecast.  It will be the candidate of power who will win," Volk said.

The candidate of power is Acting President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, a long-time aide to the late president.

His five lesser-known challengers all hail from the same political party because Turkmenistan, under Niyazov, stifled political opposition. 

However, Sunday's election was a first in that it offered voters multiple candidates.  Some of those who cast ballots said they were voting for the prospect of change.  But analyst Volk and others say any reforms will likely be slow in coming.

Turn-out figures were placed at nearly one-hundred percent.  The election  was not officially observed by the West or CIS states.
Whoever wins Sunday's election is expected to be sworn into office this Wednesday.