Thu, Dec 28, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Turkmen assembly picks poll date, six candidates

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , ALMATY

Five days after the death of Turkmenistan's authoritarian president, Saparmurat Niyazov, the upper chamber of the country's legislature agreed on Tuesday to schedule an election on Feb. 11 to pick his successor. But it limited those who could run to the six candidates it chose.

The assembly signaled its tacit endorsement of the acting president, Deputy Prime Minister Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, by unanimously approving his candidacy. He was the only candidate to receive a unanimous vote.

The other five candidates who won approval from the 2,500 assembly members are midlevel bureaucrats and politicians.

Turkmenistan's Constitution barred Berdymukhammedov's candidacy because it said an acting president could not run. But the assembly voted to change the Constitution to allow his candidacy.

Many Western analysts who study Turkmenistan said the Soviet-style nomination process as proof that the country was unlikely to change under Niyazov's successors.

Chief of elections Murad Kariyev promised legislators that he would to administer a fair election and provide voting stations with transparent ballot boxes.

However, he also expressed his support for Berdymukhammedov's candidacy, saying he will "do everything to make him president because he is a worthy successor" to Niyazov.

Members of Turkmenistan's fractured, exiled political opposition have said they intend to challenge the officially sanctioned roster of candidates, complicating any political forecast in Turkmenistan, which has enormous natural gas reserves, which are essential to European energy supplies.

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