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Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov wins poll with 98% of vote

Being elected for the third time, President Berdymukhamedov faced eight challengers for the presidency.

Turkmenistan's ruling leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov bagged a fresh seven-year term with nearly 98 percent of a weakly contested vote, electoral officials following a preliminary count said.

The election commission claimed at a news conference on Monday, in the capital Ashgabat, a turnout of more than 97 percent for the poll, in which eight other candidates, viewed as token opponents for Berdymukhamedov, also competed.

Casting his vote at a school in Ashgabat on Sunday, the president said the vote would decide "the fate of the people for the coming seven years.

"If I am elected, then our policies aimed at improving the welfare of the people will continue," Berdymukhamedov said.

READ MORE: Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov set to win elections

The former dentist and health minister took power in 2006 after the death of Turkmenistan's first president, Saparmurat Niyazov.

Last year, Berdymukhamedov signed off on constitutional changes that paved the way for his lifelong rule by removing upper age limits for presidential candidates.

Another change lengthened presidential terms from five to seven years.

Voters in Ashgabat overwhelmingly said they were backing Berdymukhamedov on Sunday.

One-sided votes are typical in Central Asia, a Muslim-majority ex-Soviet region politically close to Russia and China, where reigning presidents are usually expected to die in power.

Although Turkmenistan sits on the world's fourth-largest natural gas reserves, it has failed to diversify export routes and its hydrocarbon-based economy as a whole.

In recent years, the country of more than five million people has traded its traditional economic reliance on Russia for dependence on China, which buys the vast majority of its gas.

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