Asia

Authoritarian leader is favorite in Turkmenistan election

  • Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, center, smiles as he casts his ballot at a polling station in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017. Berdymukhamedov has been the overwhelmingly dominant figure in the former Soviet republic for a decade, when he assumed power after death of his eccentric predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov. (AP Photo/Alexander Vershinin)

    Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, center, smiles as he casts his ballot at a polling station in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017. Berdymukhamedov has been the overwhelmingly dominant figure in the former Soviet republic for a decade, when he assumed power after death of his eccentric predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov. (AP Photo/Alexander Vershinin)  (The Associated Press)

  • Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, center, greets journalists after casting his ballot at a polling station in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017. Berdymukhamedov has been the overwhelmingly dominant figure in the former Soviet republic for a decade, when he assumed power after death of his eccentric predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov. (AP Photo/Alexander Vershinin)

    Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, center, greets journalists after casting his ballot at a polling station in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017. Berdymukhamedov has been the overwhelmingly dominant figure in the former Soviet republic for a decade, when he assumed power after death of his eccentric predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov. (AP Photo/Alexander Vershinin)  (The Associated Press)

  • Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov speaks to journalists after casting his ballot at a polling station in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017. Berdymukhamedov has been the overwhelmingly dominant figure in the former Soviet republic for a decade, when he assumed power after death of his eccentric predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov. (AP Photo/Alexander Vershinin)

    Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov speaks to journalists after casting his ballot at a polling station in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017. Berdymukhamedov has been the overwhelmingly dominant figure in the former Soviet republic for a decade, when he assumed power after death of his eccentric predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov. (AP Photo/Alexander Vershinin)  (The Associated Press)

The elections commission in Turkmenistan says more than 80 percent of the former Soviet republic's electorate has turned out by mid-afternoon to vote in the presidential race where the authoritarian incumbent is the overwhelming favorite.

The Sunday election is the first time that candidates from non-government parties have been on the ballot. But those parties are largely submissive to the government. The eight other candidates in the race have expressed support for the government of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.

He has been in power since the 2006 death of Saparmurat Niyazov, known for eccentric policies such as banning gold teeth and for creating a personality cult.

Berdymukhamedov instituted some reforms such as widening public internet access, but engendered his own personality cult. Constitutional changes last year would allow him to serve for life.