Turkmens Hail 'Democratic' Parliamentary Vote

APA Turkmen woman passing an election poster in downtown Ashgabat last week in the lead-up to Sunday's elections.
ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan -- Turkmenistan's government said Monday that the parliamentary election on Sunday was a milestone in the Central Asian nation's democratic reform, although only state-approved candidates were permitted to stand.

Most of the candidates represented the ruling Democratic Party -- the only one registered in Turkmenistan -- and there were a handful of state-approved independents.

The gas-rich former Soviet nation on the Caspian Sea has been emerging from isolation since autocratic ruler Saparmurat Niyazov died in 2006 after an eccentric, 21-year reign.

His successor, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, has promised reform to attract foreign investors, and the election was central to this plan. The aim was to create a bigger and more powerful parliament that would have a greater say in national decision-making.

"The elections that took place in the atmosphere of openness ... and gave voters a wide range of choices became a new step on the path of strengthening democratic principles in Turkmen society," the state-owned Turkmen Khabarlary news agency said.

Critics said the election, in which 94 percent of the electorate voted, was far from fair, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe did not send a full monitoring mission, saying a genuine contest was impossible.

Meanwhile, a Russian-dominated group of observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States on Monday called the election free and open.

"The election of parliamentary deputies was held in accordance with the country's election laws and generally accepted standards for democratic elections," said CIS Secretary General Sergei Lebedev, a Russian citizen.

Turkmen election officials said results would be announced by Wednesday.

n Turkmenistan appears to be removing all references to its autocratic former leader from the national anthem.

Turkmen state media reported Monday that lawmakers have approved revised anthem lyrics.

The reports gave no specifics, but a revised anthem appeared over the weekend in a collection of writings by current Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov. It makes no reference to former leader Saparmurat Niyazov.