Tightly controlled Turkmenistan holds parliamentary vote with only semblance of competition

Voters in the energy-rich Turkmenistan are casting ballots in a parliamentary vote that for the first time features several parties, all of them loyal to the Central Asian nation's autocratic leader.

President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov has described Sunday's elections as a landmark stage in the ex-Soviet country's democratic development, but Amnesty International has said they are window dressing.

Earlier this year, Berdymukhamedov stepped down as leader of the main Democratic Party, a move he said should encourage democracy. The pro-business Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs created in 2012 also pledges loyalty to Berdymukhamedov, as do three other groups taking part in the vote.

Berdymukhamedov, nicknamed Arkadag, or the protector, has run Turkmenistan with an iron fist since 2006, controlling all aspects of life in the nation of five million people.