On Sunday, February 12, regular presidential elections were held in Turkmenistan. According to the voting results, the incumbent president Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov won a clear-cut victory, with the support of more than 97 percent of the voters and was re-elected, according to the new amendments to the constitution, for the next 7 years.
The main feature of this campaign was the participation of alternative candidates in the electoral process and greater coverage of their activities in the media. All in all, 9 candidates ran for the presidency, which is the highest number of candidates compared to all previous elections. Three political parties of Turkmenistan put forward their candidates. The remaining six candidates were nominated from initiative groups of citizens.
It should be noted that these elections take place in difficult conditions for Ashgabat. There has been a serious deterioration in the economic situation due to falling prices on the country's main export commodity, natural gas. The situation is exacerbated by the narrowing markets for Turkmenistan natural gas. Since January of the last year, the Russian "Gazprom" has stopped the purchase of natural gas from Turkmenistan. The deliveries to Iran have been suspended as well. The result is a reduction of budget revenues, which has already led to large-scale devaluation of the manat, and the abolition of a number of social benefits for the population, including the free gasoline cancellation and the introduction of limits on gas consumption. A number of media outlets report shortages of food and consumer goods in the Turkmen market.
The deterioration of the macroeconomic situation is also reflected in the relative slowdown in the economy of Turkmenistan. The GDP for 2016 grew by 6.2 percent, which is well below the double-digit rates in recent years.
Continuing political instability in the neighboring Afghanistan brings about increased security challenges for Turkmenistan. Over the past two years there have been reports about clashes near the border, in which the Taliban have repeatedly attacked the Turkmen border posts. In addition, security problems in Afghanistan largely hinder the construction of the main gas pipeline within the TAPI project, which is supposed to be used fro exporting of Turkmen gas to South Asian markets. In case of successful realization, the TAPI could pay up for the costs incurred by the Turkmen side to date.
Under these circumstances, Ashgabat's steps to ensure a higher level of alternative choices may indicate the intention of the Turkmen side to improve its positive international image. The latter is particularly relevant in a situation of growing economic problems and growing need in the inflow of foreign investment.
In general, the main outcome of the elections in Turkmenistan may be called the preservation and continuation of the political course of the current leadership of the country. In turn, the continuity of the strategic line corresponds to Ashgabat's regional security interests and contributes to the further strengthening of the Kazakh-Turkmen relations.