2022 Elections in Turkmenistan: Ballot Stuffing, Family Voting and Low Turnout

    Serdar Berdimuhamedov, son of outgoing President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, has won the presidential elections in Turkmenistan. Voting day was March 12 and the results were announced on March 15. According to the official figures, Berdimuhamedov Junior won 72.97% of votes, far fewer than his father who even in his first elections in 2007 was said to have won 89.23% of votes, while in the next two contests he allegedly “improved” his result to 97%.

    Poster with candidates, Turkmenistan, March 2022

    The results were not announced until three days after voting day and some analysts were beginning to wonder about the reasons for the delay. However, it was the same with the last president. In 2007 when he won the elections for the first time, voting took place on February 11, and the results were not announced until February 14. At the two subsequent elections in 2012 and 2017 when Berdimuhamedov Senior was simply confirming his right to the presidency, the results were announced the day after polling day.  

    The official media reported there had been no infringements whatsoever in either the early or the main voting. Ballot stuffing could be clearly seen even on state television though. Sources in different cities have described the voting process to turkmen.news. In the interests of security, we cannot always name the exact polling station.


    Several sources in Turkmenistan’s capital discovered that signatures had already been placed alongside their names in the voter lists, even though it was early in the morning and there was no one at the polling stations yet. A member of the election commission hesitated and entered again by hand the names of the visitors at the end of the registration log. Three people who voted together at this polling station voted for Agajan Bekmyradov, the deputy governor of Mary region.

    In Bezmein a turkmen.news source was given a ballot paper on which a tick had already been placed alongside the name of candidate Serdar Berdimuhamedov. Asked to tear up the ballot paper and provide a clean one, a member of the election commission gave out a new paper but did not destroy the old one. There were no foreign observers at this polling station and no national observers either.

    The source said that many people did not have their passports checked, and ballot papers were given out purely on the basis of the voter’s invitation. So any one at all could vote in anyone’s name.

    One source in the capital monitored the elections on the central election commission website’s live stream. When the source’s own polling station was streamed, they noticed that the camera showed the entrance and walk-through, tables and a booth. The ballot box was not in the camera’s line of vision.

    In at least three polling stations in Ashgabat voting was very slow. It picked up only between 7.00 and 8.00 in the morning with the arrival of students in threes and fours and civil servants (men in black suits with the Turkmen flag in their lapel and women in national dresses and headscarves). The members of the election commission were bored the rest of the time.


    In the administrative center of Balkan region citizens went to vote in the hope of being able to buy something as was the case in previous years. But even so there were not many voters. Visitors went to see those who had not voted by midday to find out why. A woman told the turkmen.news source, “They are going to people’s homes because there are very few voters.” Another city resident said that she and her fellow pensioners who refused to go and vote were threatened with having their names taken and losing the 10% uplift to their pension.

    The real turnout at the polling station in the sewing factory where our source was an observer was no more than 5%. The official turnout was 97.12%.

    Several sources said they had been given several ballot papers so they could vote on behalf of members of their family. The photo above shows ballot papers given to a turkmen.news source. He was given three ballot papers in all but the photo shows only two. The same source said they saw at least three people who had also been given several ballot papers. In one instance there were fewer registered voters in the family than ballot papers. When questioned about it, a member of the election commission asked, “What’s it to you? Is it difficult to vote?”

    One source went to vote early in the morning at around 8.00, and two ballot boxes were already half full – one for disabled and elderly voters and another a standard ballot box. At 13.00 there was hardly anyone at this polling station, the log was almost blank, but the ballot boxes were nearly full. The source said it was possible to bring the passports of friends and relatives to vote on their behalf though they were not present in person.

    All the Balkanabat sources voted for candidates other than the president’s son.


    Early in the morning ballot boxes were already half full at many polling stations in Dashoguz, but there were few names in the registration log. It was possible to vote on behalf of family members and neighbors.

    This was confirmed by another source in Dashoguz region who went to vote at the polling station in the Bakhshi Museum next to the fifth housing department. He was asked at the polling station, “Four people are registered at your apartment. Would you like to vote for everyone?” He agreed and was given four ballot papers.

    A third source in Dashoguz who was a member of the election commission at one of the schools said that the school director and teachers personally stuffed ballot papers, already marked for candidate Serdar Berdimuhamedov, into the ballot boxes. The source said that the video camera had been deliberately switched off at that moment.


    A source in Turkmenabat did not go to vote, as they had not received an invitation (city residents who did not receive an invitation were told earlier that “the residents’ committee will vote” for them). But an invitation was brought round for the source’s grandfather who died several years ago. Several residents of Turkmenabat who are at present in Turkey appeared in the list of “those who voted” (although polling stations for migrants had been organized in embassies abroad).

    “From 7.00 in the morning I observed the second sports school in Uchpunkt residential district where the polling station is located,” the source added. “Fewer than one hundred people had visited the polling station when they reported that five hundred people had been there.”

    Towards evening the teachers themselves signed for the no-shows in the log, marked the papers for Serdar Berdimuhamedov, and put the ballot papers in the box.

    Other sources in Turkmenabat and Lebap region said that real voter turnout at two polling stations in the regional center and also in Farap and Danev was higher than at other elections (for example, parliamentary elections). Many did not vote for Berdimuhamedov Junior but for Perhat Begenjov, a candidate from the region. This included older voters who are usually loyal to the authorities. 

    “Several female pensioners whom I know all said that the authorities have failed to rescue their grandchildren who are in Ukraine,” the source explained. “They decided to vote for Begenjov in protest.”

    Teachers known to the source in Turkmenabat who worked at the polling station were “pleasantly shocked” that almost half the ballot papers were for Begenjov, and some were for other candidates. According to the teachers, fewer than half the voters voted for Berdimuhamedov Junior. So 70-80% of ballot papers had to be falsified. The source also said that people had become much bolder and scarcely tried to hide that they hadn’t voted for Serdar.

    Polling stations abroad

    Sources in Bishkek report that the voting booths stood in the center of the hall at the embassy. The booths did not have any “roof” and the video cameras could see what voters were doing. In other words the secrecy of the ballot was violated.

    “I could easily see the cameras from the booth, which means the diplomats could see me through the cameras,” the source said. “So the authorities know which students at Bishkek universities and other migrants voted for Serdar and which didn’t.”

    Other sources say that the embassy staff even asked voters directly how they voted. Some were told before voting that, “There’s no confidence in new and unknown candidates. Vote for those you know.” The only candidate about whom Turkmen citizens knew anything before the elections was Serdar Berdimuhamedov.

    Meanwhile in Turkey, one migrant went to the embassy on another matter several days before the election. The diplomats would not even talk to him until he had completed the procedure for early voting. Only after that was he allowed to say why he had come to the embassy.

    Analysts had been saying for years that Serdar Berdimuhamedov was being groomed to take over from Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. On February 11 Berdimuhamedov Senior announced at a sitting of the Halk Maslahaty (the upper house of parliament) that he would like to “make way for the young” and leave the post of president. He said he intended to keep only the post of chairman of the Halk Maslahaty. The next day snap presidential elections were announced for March 12, 2022. Berdimuhamedov Senior’s latest presidential term was not due to end until 2024. Another eight candidates stood in the elections in addition to Serdar, but none were well-known politicians.