Ashgabat polling stations – 49 and 50 are located in school – 49, which can be seen from my window. I personally monitored the voting process. At 7-00 a.m. lights in the windows were on and the music was playing at 8 a.m. There were no lines and people were going to the polling stations. I headed for the polling station at 11-00.
Women were cooking pilaf in front of the school building. Soft drinks and pastries were sold in front of each station. Visitors were welcomed by charming girls in national costumes with snacks on the trays. A red-carpet welcome was arranged for all voters who were treated as distinguished guests.
First I dropped by at the polling station ?49 and asked if there were any observers. A female observer from the khyakimlik’s office was there. I deliberately waited for the voters to appear and took a photo of the polling station and asked the girls for permission to “take a historical photo”. Then I made my way to my polling station – 50, where I also saw the girls holding the trays. My name was immediately found on the list. I was not asked to show ID. I went inside a voting booth, decorated with Turkmen ornaments, and before putting a ballot paper into a see-through ballot box I approached the woman who hailed me – she was sitting close the ballot box and was making notes. She pulled my ballot paper towards her and I thought that she wanted to have a look the name of the candidate I ticked and I drew the ballot paper close to me, but as it turned out she was only counting the number of ballot papers and wanted to check how many I was about to put in the box. As it turned out, the practice of family voting when one member of the family votes for others is still widely used. The officials at the polling station are happy that at least one member of the family appears, since ordinary election staff are held responsible for the voters’ turnover.
When I asked for permission to take a photo of the polling station, I was referred to two young girls who turned out to be observers. They said that all types of shooting were strictly forbidden. Nobody could give coherent reasons behind the ban. Then I was told that a police officer on duty would provide explanations who, in his turn, suggested we go outside and asked whether I am a citizen of Turkmenistan. Then he started making persistent enquiries about my name and place of residence. When asked why it was not allowed to take photos he said “Because it is forbidden!” When asked who had imposed the ban he finally said that the authorities did and made an additional comment “Don’t you understand Presidential elections are underway!?” Then a woman approached to me and politely explained that nobody had introduced any bans but still it was not allowed to take photos.
In the run-up to the elections, February 11 was “the day of silence” indeed and the President unexpectedly disappeared from TV screens. It should be mentioned though that on 10 February during television newscasts the speakers encouraged voting for the nation’s leader. The anchor speaking about democratic elections as evidence of their “transparency” reported about “three kinds of see-through ballot boxes”. I believe that this is reminiscent of comments made by a Turkmen economist who argued that the opening of a new bazaar implies the development of the market economy.
On February 8 Turkmen newspapers published the resolution issued by the Mejlis about naming the military unit after the President’s father. For some reason military units have not been named after the parents of other candidates (I assume they are dignified country’s residents). Yet, the newspapers also published the comment made by the head of CIS observers mission Evgeniy Sloboda about Presidential candidates having equal opportunities.
It can be said that the Presidential elections in Turkmenistan were not free.