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article imageTurkmenistan to hold presidential vote in February

By AFP     Oct 15, 2016 in World

Turkmenistan will hold a presidential vote on February 12 next year, state media reported Saturday, with President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov likely to compete unencumbered by any serious opposition.

State news agency TDH and state television both carried the announcement, which comes a month after the isolated Central Asian state passed constitutional changes removing barriers to the autocrat's life-long rule.

The election date was approved by Turkmenistan's parliament on Saturday, TDH said.

Turkmenistan, one of the world's most tightly-controlled countries, has never held elections endorsed by credible international vote monitors.

The constitutional changes have extended presidential terms from five years to seven years, while the 70-year age limit for candidates has been scrapped.

TDH said the Democratic Party, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and the Agrarian Party would all put forward presidential candidates.

But all three parties are strongly supportive of Berdymukhamedov's continued rule.

Speaking at a government meeting last month, Berdymukhamedov said the election would "strengthen the unity of our society" without confirming his expected participation.

The 59-year-old won elections by landslides in 2007 and 2012 after coming to power following the death of his eccentric predecessor Sapurmurat Niyazov in late 2006.

Like Niyazov -- who was accused of building up a bizarre of cult of personality during his reign -- Berdymukhamedov has had a gold statue erected in his honour in the white marble-clad capital Ashgabat.

The ex-Soviet country has the world's fourth largest reserves of natural gas, plus a rights record and tradition of isolation that regularly draw comparisons with North Korea.

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